Illuminating breast tissue

Using state-of-the-art technology, researchers from the Salk Institute, California, have taken a glimpse of cells in mature mouse breast tissue. 

Mature breast tissues contain two main cell types. The luminal cells (green) line the ducts and produce milk. The basal cells (red) surround the luminal cells and contract, causing the milk to be pushed from the ducts. 

By comparing breast tissue in adult and late prenatal development, the researchers found that cells quickly gain the ability to convert into each cell type soon after birth. It’s an abnormal alteration during this process that can lead to the development of a tumour. 

“In order to understand what goes wrong in breast cancer, we need to first understand how normal development works,” says Geoffrey Wahl, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the paper. 

Breast cancers are one of the most prevalent types of cancer, and in some forms are amongst the most difficult to treat. 

The team of researchers hope that by profiling each cell during normal breast development, they will be able to determine what goes wrong in cancer. This may lead to new strategies for treating tumours. 

The full study is published in Cell Reports.

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