A Longitudinal Study of the Association between Mammographic Density and Gene Expression in Normal Breast Tissue

J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2019 Jun;24(2):163-175. doi: 10.1007/s10911-018-09423-x. Epub 2019 Jan 6.


High mammographic density (MD) is associated with a 4-6 times increase in breast cancer risk. For post-menopausal women, MD often decreases over time, but little is known about the underlying biological mechanisms. MD reflects breast tissue composition, and may be associated with microenvironment subtypes previously identified in tumor-adjacent normal tissue. Currently, these subtypes have not been explored in normal breast tissue. We obtained biopsies from breasts of healthy women at two different time points several years apart and performed microarray gene expression analysis. At time point 1, 65 samples with both MD and gene expression were available. At time point 2, gene expression and MD data were available from 17 women, of which 11 also had gene expression data available from the first time point. We validated findings from our previous study; negative correlation between RBL1 and MD in post-menopausal women, indicating involvement of the TGFβ pathway. We also found that breast tissue samples from women with a large decrease in MD sustained higher expression of genes in the histone family H4. In addition, we explored the previously defined active and inactive microenvironment subtypes and demonstrated that normal breast samples of the active subtype had characteristics similar to the claudin-low breast cancer subtype. Breast biopsies from healthy women are challenging to obtain, but despite a limited sample size, we have identified possible mechanisms relevant for changes in breast biology and MD over time that may be of importance for breast cancer risk and tumor initiation.

Keywords: Gene expression; Mammographic density; Microenvironment; Normal breast biology; RBL1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Breast / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Density / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mammography
  • Middle Aged
  • Retinoblastoma-Like Protein p107 / genetics*
  • Retinoblastoma-Like Protein p107 / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Biomarkers
  • Histones
  • RBL1 protein, human
  • Retinoblastoma-Like Protein p107