Scientists from the Salk Institute have used an innovative method to profile each cell in normal breast development to understand the development of breast cancer. Professor Geoffrey Wahl of the Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the study says that to understand what goes wrong in breast cancer, it is necessary to understand normal breast development. The study is a significant step in that direction, as the team was able to profile each cell during breast development, adds Wahl. The team’s research lays down the groundwork for comprehending normal breast development, which may point towards new strategies for fighting against tumors. The team’s findings have been published in the journal Cell Reports.
Mature breast tissue is comprised of two main cell types that are the usual suspects in breast cancers, i.e., luminal cells and basal cells. Luminal cells are present in the lining of the ducts and produce milk, whereas the basal cells in the surrounding contract to release the milk through the ducts. The scientists in the current study wanted to find out what cause the molecular changes that regulate how stem cells are converted into these type of cells during development. The team sought to attain a molecular map of the development of the breast cells to decipher how breast tissues are formed during development and maintained throughout adulthood, explains Christopher Dravis, Staff Scientist, and co-first author of the study. The team specifically looked into how DNA packaging within the cell, known as ‘chromatin,’ changes to enable certain genes to be either accessible or inaccessible to impact gene expression and cell development.
Zhibo Ma, Postdoctoral Fellow, and co-first author of the paper elaborates that by inspecting the differences in chromatin accessibility, they wanted to understand which areas of the genome influenced transcription, the process involving fabricating RNA from DNA, and how it affected the development of the cells. Wahl believes that this information will be a valuable hypothesis-producing resource for the mammary gland community. The researchers have integrated their findings into a free online database, hoping to assist studies of gene regulation, cell growth, and other factors through multiple cell types and developmental states.