Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females, affecting one in every eight women and accounting for the majority of cancer-related deaths in women worldwide. Germline mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are significant risk factors for specific subtypes of breast cancer. BRCA1 mutations are associated with basal-like breast cancers, whereas BRCA2 mutations are associated with luminal-like disease. Defects in mammary epithelial cell differentiation have been previously recognized in germline BRCA1/2 mutation carriers even before cancer incidence. However, the underlying mechanism is largely unknown. Here, we employ spatial transcriptomics to investigate defects in mammary epithelial cell differentiation accompanied by distinct microenvironmental alterations in preneoplastic breast tissues from BRCA1/2 mutation carriers and normal breast tissues from noncarrier controls. We uncovered spatially defined receptor–ligand interactions in these tissues for the investigation of autocrine and paracrine signaling. We discovered that β1-integrin-mediated autocrine signaling in BRCA2-deficient mammary epithelial cells may differ from BRCA1-deficient mammary epithelial cells. In addition, we found that the epithelial-to-stromal paracrine signaling in the breast tissues of BRCA1/2 mutation carriers is greater than in control tissues. More integrin–ligand pairs were differentially correlated in BRCA1/2-mutant breast tissues than noncarrier breast tissues with more integrin receptor-expressing stromal cells.
These results suggest alterations in the communication between mammary epithelial cells and the microenvironment in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers, laying the foundation for designing innovative breast cancer chemo-prevention strategies for high-risk patients.