Alternatively activated macrophages and collagen remodeling characterize the postpartum involuting mammary gland across species

Am J Pathol. 2010 Mar;176(3):1241-55. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2010.090735. Epub 2010 Jan 28.


Recent pregnancy correlates with decreased survival for breast cancer patients compared with non-pregnancy-associated breast cancer. We hypothesize that postpartum mammary involution induces metastasis through wound-healing programs known to promote cancer. It is unknown whether alternatively activated M2 macrophages, immune cells important in wound-healing and experimental tumorigenesis that also predict poor prognosis for breast cancer patients, are recruited to the normal involuting gland. Macrophage markers CD68, CSF-1R, and F4/80 were examined across the pregnancy and involution cycle in rodent and human mammary tissues. Quantitative immunohistochemistry revealed up to an eightfold increase in macrophage number during involution, which returned to nulliparous levels with full regression. The involution macrophages exhibit an M2 phenotype as determined by high arginase-1 and low inducible nitric oxide synthase staining in rodent tissue, and by mannose receptor expression in human breast tissue. M2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-13 also peaked during involution. Extracellular matrix (ECM) isolated from involuting rat mammary glands was chemotactic for macrophages compared with nulliparous mammary ECM. Fibrillar collagen levels and proteolysis increased dramatically during involution, and denatured collagen I acted as a strong chemoattractant for macrophages in cell culture, suggesting proteolyzed fibrillar collagen as a candidate ECM mediator of macrophage recruitment. M2 macrophages, IL-4, IL-13, fibrillar collagen accumulation, and proteolysis of collagen are all components of tumor promotional microenvironments, and thus may mediate promotion of breast cancers arising in the postpartum setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Collagen / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology*
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / cytology
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / enzymology
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / cytology
  • Mammary Glands, Human / enzymology
  • Mammary Glands, Human / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Postpartum Period / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Species Specificity
  • Weaning


  • Biomarkers
  • Collagen
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases