PloS one

Mammary gland specific knockdown of the physiological surge in Cx26 during lactation retains normal mammary gland development and function.

PMID 24988191


Connexin26 (Cx26) is the major Cx protein expressed in the human mammary gland and is up-regulated during pregnancy while remaining elevated throughout lactation. It is currently unknown if patients with loss-of-function Cx26 mutations that result in hearing loss and skin diseases have a greater susceptibility to impaired breast development. To investigate if Cx26 plays a critical role in mammary gland development and differentiation, a novel Cx26 conditional knockout mouse model was generated by crossing Cx26fl/fl mice with mice expressing Cre under the β-Lactoglobulin promoter. Conditional knockdown of Cx26 from the mammary gland resulted in a dramatic reduction in detectable gap junction plaques confirmed by a significant ∼65-70% reduction in Cx26 mRNA and protein throughout parturition and lactation. Interestingly, this reduction was accompanied by a decrease in mammary gland Cx30 gap junction plaques at parturition, while no change was observed for Cx32 or Cx43. Whole mount, histological and immunofluorescent assessment of breast tissue revealed comparatively normal lobuloalveolar development following pregnancy in the conditionally knockdown mice compared to control mice. In addition, glands from genetically-modified mice were capable of producing milk proteins that were evident in the lumen of alveoli and ducts at similar levels as controls, suggesting normal gland function. Together, our results suggest that low levels of Cx26 expression throughout pregnancy and lactation, and not the physiological surge in Cx26, is sufficient for normal gland development and function.