The mammary gland is a unique organ that undergoes extensive and profound changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and involution. The changes that take place during puberty involve large-scale proliferation and invasion of the fat-pad. During pregnancy and lactation, the mammary cells are exposed to signaling pathways that inhibit apoptosis, induce proliferation and invoke terminal differentiation. Finally, during involution the mammary gland is exposed to milk stasis, programmed cell death and stromal reorganization to clear the differentiated milk-producing cells. Not surprisingly, the signaling pathways responsible for bringing about these changes in breast cells are often subverted during the process of tumorigenesis. The STAT family of proteins is involved in every stage of mammary gland development, and is also frequently implicated in breast tumorigenesis. While the roles of STAT3 and STAT5 during mammary gland development and tumorigenesis are well studied, others members, e.g. STAT1 and STAT6, have only recently been observed to play a role in mammary gland biology. Continued investigation into the STAT protein network in the mammary gland will likely yield new biomarkers and risk factors for breast cancer, and may also lead to novel prophylactic or therapeutic strategies against breast cancer.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Involution; Lactation; Mammary gland development; Pregnancy; STATs.
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