Hormonal and local control of mammary branching morphogenesis


✉ E-mail: mark.sternlicht@ucsf.edu


Abstract Unlike other branched organs, the mammary gland undergoes most of its branching during adolescent rather than embryonic development. Its morphogenesis begins in utero, pauses between birth and puberty, and resumes in response to ovarian estrogens to form an open ductal tree that eventually fills the entire mammary fat pad of the young female adult. Importantly, this “open” architecture leaves room during pregnancy for the organ to develop milk-producing alveoli like leaves on otherwise bare branches. Thereafter, the ducts serve to deliver the milk that is produced throughout lactation. The hormonal cues that elicit these various phases of mammary development utilize local signaling cascades and reciprocal stromal–epithelial interactions to orchestrate the tissue reorganization, differentiation and specific activities that define each phase. Fortunately, the mammary gland is rather amenable to experimental inquiry and, as a result, we have a fair, although incomplete, understanding of the mechanisms that control its development. This review discusses our current sense and understanding of those mechanisms as they pertain to mammary branching, with the caveat that many more aspects are still waiting to be solved.