Receptor activator of nuclear factor (NF)-κB (RANK) signaling promotes pregnancy-dependent epithelial cell differentiation and expansion for mammary gland development, which requires NF-κB pathway-dependent Cyclin D1 induction and inhibitor of DNA binding 2 (Id2) pathway-dependent anti-apoptotic gene induction. However, the roles of tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6) remain unclear despite its requirement in RANK signaling. Here we show that TRAF6 is crucial for both mammary stem cell maintenance and pregnancy-induced epithelial cell expansion. TRAF6 deficiency impairs phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT and canonical NF-κB pathways, whereas noncanonical NF-κB signaling remains functional. Therefore, we propose that TRAF6 promotes cell proliferation by activating PI3K/AKT signaling to induce retinoblastoma phosphorylation in concert with noncanonical NF-κB pathway-dependent Cyclin D1 induction. Furthermore, TRAF6 inhibits apoptosis by activating canonical NF-κB signaling to induce anti-apoptotic genes with the Id2 pathway. Therefore, proper orchestration of TRAF6-dependent and -independent RANK signals likely establishes mammary gland formation.
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