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  • Posted: 10/01/2012

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NCI Cancer Center News

Penn study finds new insights on control of pituitary hormone outside of brain, has implications for breast cancer

The hormone prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and then travels via the bloodstream to cells throughout the body, where it exerts multiple reproductive and metabolic effects, most notably on the breast where it is the master regulator of lactation. In recent years researchers have found that prolactin is also produced by some tissues outside the brain, however little is known about the functions of extra-pituitary prolactin or how its production is regulated in these tissues. Now, researchers in the Department of Cancer Biology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, report in Genes & Development that activation of the PI3K-Akt oncogenic signaling pathway in the mammary glands of mice rapidly induces cells in the breast itself to produce prolactin. This, in turn, triggers Stat5 activation, mammary epithelial differentiation and milk production in virgin mice within a matter of hours.

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Among the research institutions NCI funds across the United States, it currently designates 67 as Cancer Centers. Largely based in research universities, these facilities are home to many of the NCI-supported scientists who conduct a wide range of intense, laboratory research into cancer’s origins and development. The Cancer Centers Program also focuses on trans-disciplinary research, including population science and clinical research. The centers’ research results are often at the forefront of studies in the cancer field.