Epithelial cell differentiation frequently occurs in situ in conjunction with supporting mesenchyme or connective tissue. In embryonic development the importance of the supporting mesenchyme for cytodifferentiation and morphogenesis has been demonstrated in several epithelial tissues, but the importance of epithelial-connective tissue interactions is less well studied in adult epithelial organs. We have investigated the interaction of adult mammary epithelial cells with adipocytes, which compose the normal supporting connective tissue in the mammary gland. Mammary epithelial cells from mice in various physiological states were cultured on cellular substrates of adipocytes formed from cells of the 3T3-L1 preadipocyte cell line. We found that there were two distinct phases to the interaction of epithelial cells with adipocytes. Cytodifferentiation of the epithelial cells and milk protein production were dependent on lactogenic hormones (insulin, hydrocortisone, and prolactin), whereas ductal morphogenesis was lactogenic hormone independent. When cultured on preadipocytes or adipocytes, mammary epithelial cells from never pregnant, pregnant, lactating, and involuting mice responded to lactogenic hormones rapidly by producing and secreting large amounts of alpha-, beta-, and gamma-casein and alpha-lactalbumin. This response was seen in individual as well as in clusters of epithelial cells, but was not seen if the same cells were cultured on tissue culture dishes without adipocytes, on fibroblasts (human newborn foreskin fibroblasts) or in the presence of adipocytes but in the absence of lactogenic hormones. Continued incubation of mammary epithelial cells on adipocytes in the presence or absence of lactogenic hormones resulted in the formation of a branching ductal system. Mammary epithelial cells in ducts that formed in the absence of lactogenic hormones produced no casein, but rapidly synthesized casein when subsequently exposed to these hormones. Ultrastructural studies revealed that the formation of a basement membrane occurs only in co-cultures of mammary epithelium with adipocytes or preadipocytes. Ultrastructural changes associated with secretion occurred only in the presence of lactogenic hormones. We propose that growth and formation of a ductal system in vitro can occur in the absence of lactogenic hormones, but that certain environment-associated events must occur if the epithelium is to become responsive to lactogenic hormones and undergo the cytodifferentiation associated with lactation.
View details for Web of Science ID A1987G235700025
View details for PubMedID 3817293