The normal developmental program that prolactin generates in the mammary gland is usurped in the cancerous process and can be used out of its normal cellular context at a site of secondary metastasis. Prolactin is a pleiotropic peptide hormone and cytokine that is secreted from the pituitary gland, as well as from normal and cancerous breast cells. Experimental and epidemiologic data suggest that prolactin is associated with mammary gland development, and also the increased risk of breast tumors and metastatic disease in postmenopausal women. Breast cancer spreads to the bone in approximately 70% of cases with advanced breast cancer. Despite treatment, new bone metastases will still occur in 30%–50% of patients. Only 20% of patients with bone metastases survive five years after the diagnosis of bone metastasis. The breast cancer cells in the bone microenvironment release soluble factors that engage osteoclasts and/or osteoblasts and result in bone breakdown. The breakdown of the bone matrix, in turn, enhances the proliferation of the cancer cells, creating a vicious cycle. Recently, it was shown that prolactin accelerated the breast cancer cell-mediated osteoclast differentiation and bone breakdown by the regulation of breast cancer-secreted proteins. Interestingly, prolactin has the potential to affect multiple proteins that are involved in both breast development and likely bone metastasis, as well. Prolactin has normal bone homeostatic roles and, combined with the natural “recycling” of proteins in different tissues that can be used for breast development and function, or in bone function, increases the impact of prolactin signaling in breast cancer bone metastases. Thus, this review will focus on the role of prolactin in breast development, bone homeostasis and in breast cancer to bone metastases, covering the molecular aspects of the vicious cycle.
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