Immune cell provides cradle for mammary stem cells
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IMAGE: This image shows the cross-section of a mouse mammary gland duct taken with a confocal microscope. The mammary stem cells are labeled in pink. view more 

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Credit: Image courtesy of Sushil Kumar, Rumela Chakrabarti and Yibin Kang, Princeton University

A new study finds that one of the toughest characters in the immune system, the macrophage, has a nurturing side, at least when it comes to guarding the developing breast.

The study published online this week in the journal Science found that macrophages play an important role in maintaining the mammary gland’s stem cell niche, a sort of nursery for the precursors of milk-producing cells in the breast.

“Learning more about the factors that keep mammary stem cells alive and healthy may provide insights into the development of breast cancer when such regulation goes awry,” said Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University and an associate director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, who led the international team that made the discovery. “Our study establishes macrophages as important components of the mammary stem cell niche,” he said.

Stem cells are cells that have the potential to mature, or differentiate, into several different types of cells. Mammary stem cells shepherd

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