Several previous studies have demonstrated that mammary epithelial cells from pregnant mice retain their differentiated characteristics and their secretory potential in culture only when maintained on stromal collagen gels floated in the culture medium. The cellular basis for these culture requirements was investigated by the monitoring of milk protein synthesis and polarized secretion from the mouse mammary epithelial cell line, COMMA-1-D. Experiments were directed towards gaining an understanding of the possible roles of cell-extracellular matrix interactions and the requirements for meeting polarity needs of the epithelium. When cells are cultured on floating collagen gels they assemble a basal lamina-like structure composed of laminin, collagen (IV), and heparan sulfate proteoglycan at the interface of the cells with the stromal collagen. To assess the role of these components, an exogenous basement membrane containing these molecules was generated using the mouse endodermal cell line, PFHR-9. This matrix was isolated as a thin sheet attached to the culture dish, and mammary cells were then plated onto it. It was found that cultures on attached PFHR-9 matrices expressed slightly higher levels of beta-casein than did cells on plastic tissue culture dishes, and also accumulated a large number of fat droplets. However, the level of beta-casein was approximately fourfold lower than that in cultures on floating collagen gels. Moreover, the beta-casein made in cells on attached matrices was not secreted but was instead rapidly degraded intracellularly. If, however, the PFHR-9 matrices with attached cells were floated in the culture medium, beta-casein expression became equivalent to that in cells cultured on floating stromal collagen gels, and the casein was also secreted into the medium. The possibility that floatation of the cultures was necessary to allow access to the basolateral surface of cells was tested by culturing cells on nitrocellulose filters in Millicell (Millipore Corp., Bedford, MA) chambers. These chambers permit the monolayers to interact with the medium and its complement of hormones and growth factors through the basal cell surface. Significantly, under these conditions alpha 1-, alpha 2-, and beta-casein synthesis was equivalent to that in cells on floating gels and matrices, and, additionally, the caseins were actively secreted. Similar results were obtained independently of whether or not the filters were coated with matrices.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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