Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Immune cells called macrophages play key role in mammary gland tissue changes

02 June 2020

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Dynamic and complex tissues, mammary glands undergo significant changes at puberty, during pregnancy and once milk production ends. Recent research identified a specific type of macrophages –immune cells best known for engulfing pathogens – which closely associate with mammary ducts, where milk is transported during lactation, and assist with this remodelling. As shown in this video of a mammary duct (in purple), surrounded by collagen fibres (in pink) and macrophages (in blue and yellow), the specialised ductal macrophages, in yellow, probe the duct to locate and destroy unwanted cells. Uniquely able to efficiently clear out dying milk-producing alveolar cells, ductal macrophages are crucial to the process of involution, when mammary glands return to a normal state after lactation. The network of these macrophages around mammary ducts also has similarities to macrophages in mammary tumours, so studying their roles in development and disease could lead to new insights for breast cancer research.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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