Reconstituted basement membranes and extracellular matrices have been demonstrated to affect, positively and dramatically, the production of milk proteins in cultured mammary epithelial cells. Here we show that both the expression and the deposition of extracellular matrix components themselves are regulated by substratum. The steady-state levels of the laminin, type IV collagen, and fibronectin mRNAs in mammary epithelial cells cultured on plastic dishes and on type I collagen gels have been examined, as has the ability of these cells to synthesize, secrete, and deposit laminin and other, extracellular matrix proteins. We demonstrate de novo synthesis of a basement membrane by cells cultured on type I collagen gels which have been floated into the medium. Expression of the mRNA and proteins of basement membranes, however, are quite low in these cultures. In contrast, the levels of laminin, type IV collagen, and fibronectin mRNAs are highest in cells cultured on plastic surfaces, where no basement membrane is deposited. It is suggested that the interaction between epithelial cells and both basement membrane and stromally derived matrices exerts a negative influence on the expression of mRNA for extracellular matrix components. In addition, we show that the capacity for lactational differentiation correlates with conditions that favor the deposition of a continuous basement membrane, and argue that the interaction between specialized epithelial cells and stroma enables them to create their own microenvironment for accurate signal transduction and phenotypic function.

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