Studies in humans and pre-clinical animal models show milk-derived miRNAs reflect mammary gland function during lactation. The zinc transporter SLC30A2/ZnT2 plays a critical role in mammary gland function; ZnT2-null mice have profound defects in mammary epithelial cell (MEC) polarity and secretion, resulting in sub-optimal lactation. Non-synonymous genetic variation in SLC30A2 is common in humans, and several common ZnT2 variants are associated with changes in milk components that suggest breast dysfunction in women. To identify novel mechanisms through which dysfunction might occur, milk-derived miRNA profiles were characterized in women harboring three common genetic variants in SLC30A2 (D103E, T288S, and Exon 7). Expression of ten miRNAs differed between genotypes, and contributed to distinct spatial separation. Studies in breast milk and cultured MECs confirmed expression of ZnT2 variants alters abundance of protein levels of several predicted mRNA targets critical for breast function (PRLR, VAMP7, and SOX4). Moreover, bioinformatic analysis identified two novel gene networks that may underlie normal MEC function. Thus, we propose that genetic variation in genes critical for normal breast function such as SLC30A2 has important implications for lactation performance in women, and that milk-derived miRNAs can be used to identify novel mechanisms and for diagnostic potential.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes