Regulation of rat mammary epithelial cell proliferation and differentiation by tumor necrosis factor-α

Margot M. Ip*, Suzanne F. Shoemaker, Kathleen M. Darcy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


The effect of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) on the growth and differentiation of normal rat mammary epithelial cells was evaluated using a model system in which cells were grown within a reconstituted basement membrane under defined serum-free medium conditions. TNFα (5-10,000 U/ml) stimulated mammary epithelial cell proliferation both under conditions previously considered optimal for their growth as well as in medium deficient in epidermal growth factor (EGF). Moreover, TNFα could completely substitute for EGF for cell proliferation. Under optimal conditions, TNFα had no effect on morphological differentiation, but in medium either lacking or deficient in EGF or when suboptimal reconstituted basement membrane was used, TNFα (5-100 U/ml) had a marked stimulatory effect on lobular and ductal morphogenesis. The effect of TNFα on functional differentiation, as assessed by casein production, was more complex. In optimal lactogenic medium, TNFα (10-10,000 U/ml) inhibited casein production. In the absence of EGF, however, the effect of TNFα appeared to follow a bell-shaped curve. Thus, omission of EGF per se resulted in a marked suppression of casein production, possibly secondary to an inhibition of morphological development. At low concentrations (∼5 U/ml), TNFα stimulated casein production in parallel to its stimulation of morphological differentiation, although not to the same extent as in medium containing optimal levels of EGF. However, once maximal stimulation of morphogenesis had been achieved, further increasing the TNFα concentration from 5 to 100 U/ml resulted in a concentration-dependent inhibition of casein production. This suggests that TNFα may have a direct inhibitory effect on casein gene expression. In summary, this is the first study to report that the multifunctional cytokine TNFα is a potential regulator of the growth and development of the mammary gland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2833-2844
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1992
Externally publishedYes


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