Conversion of the nipple to hair-bearing epithelia by lowering bone morphogenetic protein pathway activity at the dermal-epidermal interface

Julie Ann Mayer, John Foley, Damon De La Cruz, Cheng Ming Chuong, Randall Widelitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations


Epithelial appendages, such as mammary glands and hair, arise as a result of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are important for hair follicle morphogenesis and cycling and are known to regulate a wide variety of developmental processes. For example, overexpression of BMPs inhibits hair follicle formation. We hypothesized that the down-regulation of the BMP signaling pathway in the basal epidermis expands regions that are competent to form hair follicles and could alter the fate of the epithelium in the mouse nipple to a hair-covered epidermal phenotype. To test our hypothesis, we used a transgenic mouse model in which keratin 14 (KRT14) promoter-mediated overexpression of Noggin, a BMP antagonist, modulates BMP activity. We observed the conversion of nipple epithelium into pilosebaceous units. During normal mammary gland organogenesis, BMPs are likely used by the nipple epithelium to suppress keratinocyte differentiation, thus preventing the formation of pilosebaceous units. In this report, we characterize the morphology and processes that influence the development of hairs within the nipple of the KRT14-Noggin mouse. We demonstrate that Noggin acts , in part, by reducing the BMP signal in the epithelium. Reduction of the BMP signal in turn leads to a reduction in the levels of parathyroid hormone-related protein. We propose that during evolution of the nipple, the BMP pathway was co-opted to suppress hair follicle formation and create a more functional milk delivery apparatus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1348
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine

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