Remodeling of the mammary microenvironment after lactation promotes breast tumor cell metastasis

Am J Pathol. 2006 Feb;168(2):608-20. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2006.050677.


The mammary gland microenvironment during postlactational involution shares similarities with inflammation, including high matrix metalloproteinase activity, fibrillar collagen deposition, and release of bioactive fragments of fibronectin and laminin. Because inflammation can promote tumorigenesis, we evaluated whether the tissue microenvironment of the involuting gland is also promotional. Extracellular matrix was isolated from mammary glands of nulliparous rats or rats with mammary glands undergoing weaning-induced involution. Using these matrices as substratum, nulliparous matrix was found to promote ductal organization of normal mammary epithelial MCF-12A cells in three-dimensional culture and to suppress invasion of mammary tumor MDA-MB-231 cells in transwell filter assays. Conversely, involution matrix failed to support ductal development in normal cells and promoted invasiveness in tumor cells. To evaluate the effects of these matrices on metastasis in vivo, MDA-MB-231 cells, premixed with Matrigel, nulliparous matrix, or involution matrix, were injected into mammary fat pads of nude mice. Metastases to lung, liver, and kidney were increased in the involution matrix group, and correlated with a twofold increase in tumor vascular endothelial growth factor expression and increased angiogenesis. These data suggest that the mammary gland microenvironment becomes promotional for tumor cell dissemination during involution, thus providing a plausible mechanism to explain the high rate of metastases that occur with pregnancy-associated breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Drug Combinations
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Lactation / physiology*
  • Laminin / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • Drug Combinations
  • Laminin
  • Proteoglycans
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • matrigel
  • Collagen