This study traced the origin of cells observed in human breast secretion samples obtained during lactation and describes the appearance of these cells following prolonged maintenance in vitro. Human milk contains a large number of single vacuolated foam cells and a small proportion of non-vacuolated epithelial cells in clusters. Foam cells are identified by their large size, the polarity of their cytoplasmic organelles, the variation in number and size of lipid vacuoles and the condensed chromatin of their eccentrically located nucleus. Both cell types originate by exfoliation from the mammary gland. This was established by comparing the structural characteristics of cells isolated from milk with those of the cuboidal cell linings of ducts and alveoli in lactating mammary tissue. Relatively pure populations of foam cells could be established from early lactation samples (3–7 days post/partum) while non-vacuolated epithelial cell clusters were more frequently cultured from late lactation specimens (1–10 days postweaning). Foam cells did not divide and lost cytoplasmic organization during prolonged culture. In contrast, non-vacuolated epithelium in clusters proliferated to form colonies of polygonal cells. These results, which imply that foam cells are an active form of the non-vacuolated mammary cells in clusters, call attention to one system for the study of the complex hormonal interactions necessary to induce and maintain lactation.
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Supported in part by NCI contract NO 1-CB-33898
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Gaffney, E.V., Polanowski, F.P., Blackburn, S.E. et al. Origin, concentration and structural features of human mammary gland cells cultured from breast secretions. Cell Tissue Res. 172, 269–279 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00226031
- Mammary gland
- Cell culture