• fetus;
  • infant;
  • breast;
  • development;
  • keratin


In order to explain the molecular events that contribute to benign and malignant breast disease, it is essential to understand the cellular context in which these are occurring. This study describes a detailed analysis of the epithelial phenotypes in the human fetal and infant breast and provides a starting point for such consideration. Using methacarn-fixed, paraffin sections from ten fetal and 45 infant breast, immunostained with a panel of antibodies to cytoskeletal proteins and κ-casein, it has been possible to define in detail the chronological evolution of the major cell types in the human breast from 16 weeks of intrauterine life to 2 years of age, in both sexes. Cells at the tips of the lobular buds and terminal end buds have a characteristic cytoskeletal protein profile, suggesting that they may have the capacity to generate both basal cells and luminal cells. Based on the expression of cytoskeletal proteins in the developing fetal and infant breast, a model system has been proposed for mammary epithelial differentiation. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.