Targeted mice lacking functional EGF or amphiregulin (AR) were derived and bred to the TGFalpha-knockout to generate mice lacking various combinations of the three ligands. In contrast to EGF receptor (EGFR) knockout mice, triple null mice lacking half of the EGFR ligand family were healthy and fertile, indicative of overlapping or compensatory functions among EGF family members. Nevertheless, pups born to triple null dams frequently died or were runted, suggesting a mammary gland defect. Comparison of individual and combinatorial knockouts established that specific loss of AR severely stunted ductal outgrowth during puberty, consistent with dramatic expression of AR transcripts in normal developing ducts. Surprisingly, loss of all three ligands did not significantly affect cellular proliferation, apoptosis, or ERK activation within terminal end buds. Following pregnancy, most AR single null females, but few triple null females could nurse their young, revealing collaborative roles for EGF and TGFalpha in mammopoiesis and lactogenesis. In triple null glands, alveoli were poorly organized and differentiated, and milk protein gene expression was decreased. Additionally, Stat5a activation was frequently reduced in AR single and combinatorial nulls in association with impaired lactation. Collectively, our results provide genetic confirmation of a requirement for EGFR signaling throughout the development of the mouse mammary gland, and reveal stage-dependent activities for different EGFR ligands. Finally, the additional loss of growth factors from pups nursed by triple null dams further worsened their survival and growth, establishing functions for both maternal- and neonatal-derived growth factors.

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