Epithelial-adipocyte interactions are required for mammary gland development, but not for milk production or fertility

Audrey Brenot, Irina Hutson, Charles Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


To investigate the role of adipose tissue in reproductive function and mammary gland development and function, we have examined lipodystrophic (LD) mice. LD mice of both sexes are sterile, but fertility can be restored with leptin injections. Mammary glands from lipodystrophic mice were rudimentary and lacked terminal end buds. Leptin-injected LD mice were able to become pregnant, showed normal pregnancy-associated glandular proliferation despite a smaller glandular area, were able to produce a small amount of milk that had grossly normal content of milk proteins and neutral lipids, but could not sustain pups to weaning. In order to separate the individual requirements for 1) adipokines such as leptin, 2) estradiol, and 3) physical epithelial-adipocyte interactions, we performed a series of experiments with both lipodystrophic mice and ob (obese mice with a mutation in the lep gene encoding the adipokine leptin) mice that received either estradiol treatment or preadipocyte transplant. The resulting fat pad did not rescue the defect in mammary gland development in lipodystrophic mice. The defect also could not be rescued with estradiol pellets. Ob/ob mice, like LD mice, lack leptin and estradiol, but retain adipose tissue. Ob mice have defective mammary gland development. However, in striking contrast to what was observed in lipodystrophic mice, reconstitution of a WT fat pad in ob mice rescued the defect in mammary gland development. Estradiol treatment did not rescue mammary gland development in ob mice. Therefore direct interaction between mammary gland epithelia and adipocytes is a requirement for full invasion and expansion of the gland, but is not required for glandular proliferation during pregnancy and milk production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-163
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 15 2020


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