Immunoreactive relaxin is present in human breast cyst fluid and postpartum milk without concurrent detectable serum levels, suggesting that the breast is a site of relaxin synthesis. Monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to human relaxin H2 have been used to immunolocalize relaxins in normal, benign and neoplastic breast tissues with the avidin—biotin immunostaining technique. In view of the similarities in amino acid sequence between HI and H2 relaxins, these antibodies to H2 relaxin are likely to detect either or both relaxins present in tissue sections. Staining patterns with these antibodies were identical and showed positive diffuse cytoplasmic staining in normal, lobular and ductal epithelium and in myoepithelial cells in breast tissues from normal prepubertal, cyclic, gestational, lactational and postmenopausal females. Relaxin staining was also present in epithelial and myoepithelial cells of ducts and lobules in benign breast disease as well as in metaplastic epithelium of apocrine microcysts. All breast carcinomas (infiltrating ductal, tubular, medullary, intraductal and infiltrating lobular carcinomas) had strong uniform cytoplasmic staining within the neoplastic epithelial cells. All staining was abolished in normal and neoplastic tissues when the polyclonal antibody was preabsorbed with relaxin.
It was necessary to distinguish between the possibilities of relaxins being sequestered by breast tissue and local synthesis. Therefore, the expression of the Hl, H2 or both human relaxin genes in normal and neoplastic breast tissues was studied by the isolation of RNA, synthesis of first strand cDNA and amplification by PCR using primer sets which amplified either both H1 and H2, or specifically only H1 or H2 relaxin. The coamplification of both relaxin genes was verified by Southern analysis, diagnostic restriction enzyme digestion and sequencing. The primer set for H1 relaxin detected H1 gene expression in 1 out of 8 normal and 9 out of 12 neoplastic breast RNA samples. The H2 relaxin gene was found to be expressed in 3 out of 8 of the normal samples but in all 12 of the neoplastic samples, suggesting that this gene is expressed at higher copy number in the neoplastic tissues.
This is the first demonstration of the cellular immunolocalization of relaxin and relaxin gene expression in normal and neoplastic breast. This should allow further exploration of relaxin's role(s) in normal breast physiology and in its tumorigenesis.