High hopes for RANKL: will the mouse model live up to its promise?
The steroid hormones, estrogens and progesterone are key drivers of postnatal breast development and are linked to breast carcinogenesis. Experiments in the mouse mammary gland have revealed that they rely on paracrine factors to relegate their signal locally and to amplify it. In particular, RANKL is a key mediator of progesterone action. Systemic inhibition of RANKL blocked proliferation in the mammary epithelium with potential clinical implications: a RANKL-inhibiting antibody, Denosumab (Amgen), has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for osteoporosis treatment. Two publications now provide evidence that progestin-driven mouse mammary tumorigenesis can be blocked by ablating RANK signaling. Can the osteoporosis drug help breast cancer patients? The burning question now is whether the role of this pathway is conserved in the human breast and whether RANKL signaling has a role in the pathogenesis of one or more subtypes of breast cancer.