The RANKL signaling axis is sufficient to elicit ductal side-branching and alveologenesis in the mammary gland of the virgin mouse

Dev Biol. 2009 Apr 1;328(1):127-39. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.01.019. Epub 2009 Jan 23.


Receptor of Activated NF-kappaB Ligand (RANKL) is implicated as one of a number of effector molecules that mediate progesterone and prolactin signaling in the murine mammary epithelium. Using a mouse transgenic approach, we demonstrate that installation of the RANKL signaling axis into the mammary epithelium results in precocious ductal side-branching and alveologenesis in the virgin animal. These morphological changes occur due to RANKL-induced mammary epithelial proliferation, which is accompanied by increases in expression of activated NF-kB and cyclin D1. With age, prolonged RANKL exposure elicits limited mammary epithelial hyperplasia. While these transgenics exhibit RANKL-induced salivary gland adenocarcinomas, palpable mammary tumors are not observed due to RANKL-suppression of its own signaling receptor (RANK) in the mammary epithelium. Together, these studies reveal not only that the RANKL signaling axis can program many of the normal epithelial changes attributed to progesterone and prolactin action in the normal mammary gland during early pregnancy, but underscore the necessity for tight control of this signaling molecule to avoid unwarranted developmental changes that could lead to mammary hyperplasia in later life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / growth & development*
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Morphogenesis* / genetics
  • RANK Ligand / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • RANK Ligand