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News-in-brief / 02.23.15

Examination of mammary epithelial cells reveal epigenetic changes from pregnancy

By Broad Communications

Most organs develop and differentiate in the womb. Not so the mammary gland, which becomes fully functional through puberty and pregnancy. This unique organ gains further mystique in that its use seems to stave off breast cancer. In a study released in Stem Cell Reports, researchers led by the Broad's Kornelia Polyak and Alex Meissner examined the gene expression and DNA methylation profiles of multiple murine mammary epithelial cell types at different ages and reproductive stages. Their work shows that pregnancy induces permanent epigenetic changes in proliferative cells relevant to breast cancer risk, suggesting that depleting these cells may help prevent cancer.