Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 159-170

First online:

Differentiation of the Mammary Epithelial Cell during Involution: Implications for Breast Cancer

  • Jenifer MonksAffiliated withWebb Waring Center, University of Colorado, Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus Email author 
  • , Peter M. HensonAffiliated withNational Jewish Health

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That milk secretion is not the final differentiated state of the mammary alveolar cells is a relatively new concept. Recent work has suggested that secreting, mammary epithelial cells (MECs) have another function to perform before they undergo cell death in the involuting mammary gland. That is, they help in the final clearance and breakdown of their neighboring cells (and likely residual milk as well.) They become, for a short time, amateur phagocytes, or efferocytes, and then are believed to die and be cleared themselves. Although relatively little study has been made of this change in the functional state of the MEC, nevertheless we may speculate from the involution literature, and extend findings from other systems of apoptotic cell clearance, on some of the mechanisms involved. And with the finding that involution may represent a unique susceptibility window for the progression of metastatic breast cancer, we may suggest areas for future research along these lines as well.


Mammary involution Metastatic breast cancer