Prolactin (PRL) induces mammary gland development (defined as mammopoiesis) and lactogenesis. Binding of PRL to its receptor leads to the phosphorylation and activation of STAT (signal transducers and activators of transcription) proteins, which in turn promote the expression of specific genes. The activity pattern of two STAT proteins, Stat5a and Stat5b, in mammary tissue during pregnancy suggests an active role for these transcription factors in epithelial cell differentiation and milk protein gene expression. To investigate the function of Stat5a in mammopoiesis and lactogenesis we disrupted this gene in mice by gene targeting. Stat5a-deficient mice developed normally and were indistinguishable from hemizygous and wild-type littermates in size, weight, and fertility. However, mammary lobuloalveolar outgrowth during pregnancy was curtailed, and females failed to lactate after parturition because of a failure of terminal differentiation. Although Stat5b has a 96% similarity with Stat5a and a superimposable expression pattern during mammary gland development it failed to counterbalance for the absence of Stat5a. These results document that Stat5a is the principal and an obligate mediator of mammopoietic and lactogenic signaling.
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