Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Edmund Rucker

Second Advisor

Dr. Edmund Rucker


The mammary gland is a dynamic organ that undergoes the majority of its development in the postnatal period in four stages; mature virgin, pregnancy, lactation, and involution. Every stage relies on tightly regulated cellular proliferation, programmed cell death, and tissue remodeling mechanisms. Misregulation of autophagy, an intracellular catabolic process to maintain energy stores, has long been associated with mammary tumorigenesis and other pathologies. We hypothesize that appropriate regulation and execution of autophagy are necessary for proper development of the mammary ductal tree and maintenance of the secretory epithelia during late pregnancy and lactation. To test this hypothesis we examined the role of two genes during development of the mammary gland.

Beclin1 (Becn1) is an essential autophagy gene. Since the Becn1 knockout model is embryonic lethal, we have generated a Becn1 conditional knockout (cKO). We used two discrete mammary gland-specific Cre transgenic lines to interrogate the role of BECN1 during development. We report that MMTV-CreD; Becn1fl/fl mice have a hyper-branching phenotype and WAP-Cre; Becn1fl/- mice are unable to sustain a lactation phase. Becn1 mutants exhibit abnormal glandular morphology during pregnancy and after parturition. Moreover, when autophagy is chemically inhibited in vitro, mammary epithelial cells have an increased mean number of lipid droplets per cell.

MTOR inhibits autophagy upstream of BECN1; we looked higher in the regulatory pathway for regulatory candidates. It has been well characterized that Tuberous sclerosis complex 1 (TSC1), in a heterodimer with its primary binding partner TSC2, inhibits MTOR signaling via inhibition of RHEB. Using the Tsc1 floxed model we generated a mammary gland specific Tsc1 cKO and found that these mice phenocopy the Becn1 cKO mice, including a gross lactation failure. Tsc1 cKO glands have altered morphology, retained lipid droplets in secretory epithelia, and an overall increase in MTOR signaling. We show that TSC1 and BECN1 are interacting partners, and that the interaction is nutrient responsive.

These results suggest that Becn1 and Tsc1 are necessary for proper mammary gland development and differentiation. Furthermore, we have demonstrated a novel murine protein-protein interaction and an important link between regulation of MTOR pathway and regulation of autophagy in a developmental context.