Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Milky Way

Local immune cells can help or endanger breast tissue

13 February 2019

Milky Way

High-resolution microscopy allows researchers to explore how breast tissue swells and remodels during pregnancy to produce milk. Shown here is a mammary gland during lactation. Milk-filled spheres are surrounded by muscle cells (in yellow) that contract and relax to squeeze milk into the branch-like ducts. Visualising exactly how the tissue develops across three dimensions is not straightforward. The scientists used confocal microscopes to image large areas of breast tissue, then analysed the images with automated tools to track thousands of cells and tissue structures over time. Helping the breast cells to develop healthily during puberty, pregnancy and breastfeeding are local immune cells (lilac). These rare but important cells survey the tissue for infection. However, they can also play a more sinister role, co-operating with cancer cells to help them to evade detection by the broader immune system. Understanding these complex interactions could provide clues for how breast cancer develops.

Written by Deborah Oakley

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