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Early full-term pregnancy is an effective natural protection against breast cancer in both humans and experimental rodents. The protective effect of an early pregnancy is in part linked to changes in circulating hormones that are involved in both normal breast development and breast cancer. For example, a reduction in circulating growth hormone (GH) has been shown to protect rats from carcinogen-induced mammary tumors. We examined the ability of a full-term pregnancy to alter the endocrine GH/IGF-I axis and how this change affected normal mammary gland function in two commonly used rat models (Sprague-Dawley and Wistar-Furth). Circulating GH and IGF-I were measured in blood drawn every 30 minutes from parous and aged-matched virgin (AMV) female rats. Mean serum GH levels were significantly decreased (p<0.01) in parous compared to AMV in both rat strains. Changes in GH levels were independent of estrous cycle, indicated by a significant (p<0.05) reduction in circulating levels of GH during estrus and diestrus in both parous strains. Despite the decrease in circulating GH, pituitary GH mRNA levels were unaltered in parous rats. Circulating IGF-I and hepatic IGF-I mRNA were also unaltered by parity in either rat strain. Immunoblot analysis of mammary glands showed decreases in phosphorylation of Stat5A and Jak2, suggesting reduced action of GH in the mammary gland. Therefore, while the parity reduction in circulating GH doesn’t impact upon circulating IGF-I levels, it is possible that reduced GH action directly at the mammary gland and may play a role in pregnancy protection from breast cancer.


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Cancer Prevention Research





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