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Open Access Research article

c-Myc affects mRNA translation, cell proliferation and progenitor cell function in the mammary gland

Tina Stoelzle1, Patrick Schwarb1, Andreas Trumpp23 and Nancy E Hynes1*

Author Affiliations

1 Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland

2 Division of Stem Cells and Cancer, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany

3 HI-STEM (Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine), Heidelberg, Germany

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BMC Biology 2009, 7:63  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-63

Published: 28 September 2009

Abstract

Background

The oncoprotein c-Myc has been intensely studied in breast cancer and mouse mammary tumor models, but relatively little is known about the normal physiological role of c-Myc in the mammary gland. Here we investigated functions of c-Myc during mouse mammary gland development using a conditional knockout approach.

Results

Generation of c-mycfl/fl mice carrying the mammary gland-specific WAPiCre transgene resulted in c-Myc loss in alveolar epithelial cells starting in mid-pregnancy. Three major phenotypes were observed in glands of mutant mice. First, c-Myc-deficient alveolar cells had a slower proliferative response at the start of pregnancy, causing a delay but not a block of alveolar development. Second, while milk composition was comparable between wild type and mutant animals, milk production was reduced in mutant glands, leading to slower pup weight-gain. Electron microscopy and polysome fractionation revealed a general decrease in translational efficiency. Furthermore, analysis of mRNA distribution along the polysome gradient demonstrated that this effect was specific for mRNAs whose protein products are involved in milk synthesis. Moreover, quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed decreased levels of ribosomal RNAs and ribosomal protein-encoding mRNAs in mutant glands. Third, using the mammary transplantation technique to functionally identify alveolar progenitor cells, we observed that the mutant epithelium has a reduced ability to repopulate the gland when transplanted into NOD/SCID recipients.

Conclusion

We have demonstrated that c-Myc plays multiple roles in the mouse mammary gland during pregnancy and lactation. c-Myc loss delayed, but did not block proliferation and differentiation in pregnancy. During lactation, lower levels of ribosomal RNAs and proteins were present and translation was generally decreased in mutant glands. Finally, the transplantation studies suggest a role for c-Myc in progenitor cell proliferation and/or survival.

See related minireview by Evan et al: http://jbiol.com/content/8/8/77 webcite