There is emerging evidence that androgens inhibit proliferation of normal and malignant breast epithelial cells, but the actions of androgens in normal mammary gland morphogenesis are not well understood. In this study, we investigated whether development of the murine mammary gland could be altered by stimulating or suppressing androgen receptor (AR) signaling in vivo. Intact virgin female mice aged 5 wk (midpuberty) or 12 wk (postpuberty) were implanted with slow-release pellets containing either placebo, 5α- dihydrotestosterone (1.5 mg) or the AR antagonist flutamide (60 mg). Treatment with 5α-dihydrotestosterone from midpuberty to 12 wk of age-retarded ductal extension by 40% (P=0.007), but treatment from 12-21 wk had no significant effect on gland morphology. In contrast, inhibition of AR signaling with flutamide from midpuberty had no effect on the mammary gland, but flutamide treatment from 12-21 wk increased ductal branching (P = 0.004) and proliferation (P = 0.03) of breast epithelial cells. The increased proliferation in flutamide-treated mice was not correlated with serum estradiol levels or estrogen receptor-α (ERα) expression. In control mice, the frequency and intensity of AR immunostaining in mammary epithelial cells was significantly increased in the 12- to 21-wk treatment group compared with the 5- to 12-wk group (P<0.001). In contrast, no change in ERα occurred, resulting in a marked increase in the AR to ERα ratio from 0.56 (±0.12) to 1.47 (±0.10). Our findings indicate that androgen signaling influences development and structure of the adult mammary gland and that homeostasis between estrogen and androgen signaling in mature glands is critical to constrain the proliferative effects of estradiol.
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