Opposing effects of prepubertal low- and high-fat n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid diets on rat mammary tumorigenesis

Susan E. Olivo, Leena Hilakivi-Clarke

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70 Scopus citations


To determine whether dietary fat intake during childhood affects the later risk of developing breast cancer, we fed prepubertal rats between post-natal days 5 and 25 a low (16% energy) or high-fat (39% energy) diet composed mainly of n-6 or n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) originating either from corn oil or menhaden oil, respectively, in the ratios of 16/17:1 (n-6 PUFA diets) or 2-3:1 (n-3 PUFA diets). We also examined whether changes in risk are associated with perturbations in biological processes previously linked to fatty acid intake and breast cancer. Mammary tumorigenesis was induced by treating 50-day-old rats with the carcinogen 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene. When compared with the reference low-fat n-6 PUFA diet, prepubertal exposure to the low-fat n-3 PUFA diet decreased, whereas a high-fat n-3 PUFA diet increased mammary tumor incidence; the high-fat n-6 PUFA diet had no effect. Both the low and high-fat n-3 PUFA diets induced mammary epithelial differentiation by reducing the number of terminal end buds (TEBs) and increasing the presence of lobulo-alveolar structures. They also increased lipid peroxidation and reduced cyclooxygenase-2 activity. Prepubertal exposure to the low-fat n-3 PUFA diet increased apoptosis, determined using TUNEL assay, and reduced cell proliferation, determined using PCNA staining. In marked contrast, prepubertal exposure to the high-fat n-3 PUFA diet induced cell proliferation and inhibited apoptosis in the TEBs and lobular structures. The latter is consistent with the finding that pAkt, a survival factor that inhibits apoptosis, was elevated in their mammary glands. In summary, although prepubertal exposure to a low-fat n-3 PUFA diet reduced later mammary tumorigenesis in rats, high levels of this fatty acid can have adverse effects on the prepubertal mammary gland and increase subsequent breast cancer risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1563-1572
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was supported by a predoctoral fellowship grant from Department of Defense to S.E.O. and grants to L.H.C. from NCI (5 RO1 CA89950 and 1 U54 CA100970), the Susan G.Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation and American Institute for Cancer Research.


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