UMass Breastmilk Lab


This page has a curated list of my publications relating to specific topics and areas of research, the links in the citations will access the full articles.  A complete list of my publications is also available through my page in Pubmed.

Modifying Risk

One goal of my breastmilk research program has been to identify modifiable risk factors; specifically changes in DNA methylation or gene products associated with risk that can be altered by lifestyle changes, diet or drugs. To conduct this research, I first determined that the exfoliated cells in breastmilk provided information on breast health. I did this by comparing DNA methylation in exfoliated cells from the milk of lactating women at average and increased breast cancer risk. I determined that the increased promoter methylation of several tumor suppressor genes was more frequent in the milk cells from women at increased risk of breast cancer. This research, funded by the Avon Foundation for Women and the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, was a major impetus for the NCI-sponsored workshop on postpartum remodeling, lactation and breast cancer risk in 2012.  Archived breastmilk samples from women who later developed breast cancer are currently being used in analyses of the proteome and somatic mutations. Finally, studies are now underway to monitor cells in milk as a means of assessing and modifying individual breast cancer risk.

  1. Salas LA, Lundgren SN, Browne EP, Punska EC, Anderton DL, Karagas MR, Arcaro KF, Christensen BC. 2020 Prediagnostic breast milk DNA methylation alterations in women who develop breast cancer. Hum Mol Genet. 29(4):662-673. PMID: 31943067
  2. Davis Lynn BC, Bodelon C, Pfeiffer RM, Yang HP, Yang H, Lee M, Laird PW, Campan M, Weisenberger DJ, Murphy J, Sampson JN, Browne EP, Anderton DL, Sherman ME, Arcaro KF, Gierach GL. (2019) Differences in genome-wide DNA methylation profiles in breast milk by race and lactation duration. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). PMID: 31481539.
  3. Essa AR, Browne EP, Punska EC, Perkins K, Boudreau E, Wiggins H, Anderton DL, Sibeko L, Sturgeon SR, Arcaro KF. 2018 Dietary Intervention to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Breastfeeding Women: A Pilot Randomized Trial Measuring Inflammatory Markers in Breast Milk. J Acad Nutr Diet. 118(12):2287-2295. PMID: 30213617.
  4. Browne EP, Punska EC, Lenington S, Otis CN, Anderton DL, Arcaro KF. 2011 Increased promoter methylation in exfoliated breast epithelial cells in women with a previous breast biopsy. Epigenetics 6(12):1425-35. PMID: 22139572.

Responding to women’s needs

My breastmilk research program is responsive to women’s needs. Since my early work with the Mohawk Akwesasne Nation superfund project, I have focused on questions that women want answered. I quickly responded in 2020 to question about the immune response in milk to COVID-19 infections and immunization. We provided strong rational for all new mothers to breastfeed. We documented high levels of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in colostrum among those recently diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as those diagnosed months before giving birth. We found robust humoral & cellular responses in the milk of both those with COVID-19 diagnoses and those who received a vaccine, and strong evidence of a durable antibody response, with the possibility of transfer of effector memory T cells to the infant. Those studies garnered significant attention, especially among the African American community.  I gave a plenary talk at the Black Breastfeeding & Birth Justice Summit and I continue this research with colleagues at ROSE to assess the immune response in the milk of African American mothers. With funding from the Avon Foundation for Women (2012 – 2014) I enrolled 300 lactating Black/African American women to assess associations with breast cancer risk and the inflammatory profile in milk.

  1. Narayanaswamy V, Pentecost BT, Telfer JC, Burnside AS, Schneider SS, Alfandari D, Baker RL, Saiju A, Nodiff S, Arcaro KF. 2022 Durable antibody and effector memory T cell responses in breastmilk from women with SARS-CoV-2. Front. Immunol. 13:985226.doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.985226
  2. Narayanaswamy V, Pentecost BT, Schoen CN, Alfandari D, Schneider SS, Baker R, Arcaro KF. 2022 Neutralizing antibodies and cytokines in breast milk after coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) mRNA vaccination. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 139(2):181-191. PMID 35104067
  3. Narayanaswamy V, Pentecost BT, Alfandari D, Chin E, Minor K, Kastrinakis A, Lieberman T, Arcaro KF*, Leftwich H. 2021 Humoral and cell-mediated immune response in colostrum from women diagnosed positive for SARS-CoV-2. Breastfeed Med. 16(12):987-994. PMID: 34382820 *KF Arcaro is corresponding author
  4. Murphy J, Pfeiffer RM, Lynn BCD, Caballero AI, Browne EP, Punska EC, Yang HP, Falk RT, Anderton DL, Gierach GL*, Arcaro KF*, Sherman ME*. 2018 Pro-inflammatory cytokines and growth factors in human milk: an exploratory analysis of racial differences to inform breast cancer etiologyBreast Cancer Res Treat. 172(1):209-219. PMID: 30083950. *Co-Senior authors

Environmental Exposure

An early goal of my breastmilk research program was to document levels of exposure to environmental contaminants. Together with colleagues at the NYS Department of Health we determined the levels of several classes of environmental pollutants including synthetic musks, perfluorinated compounds, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Documenting the extent to which environmental contaminants, known to have deleterious effects on the developing infant, are present in breastmilk is important for reducing exposure through behavior changes and legislation. It is noteworthy that we found levels of PCBs in breastmilk in 2008 to be dramatically lower than levels measured years earlier before the banning of PCBs. In contrast, the concentration of synthetic musks appears to be increasing. We also developed a sensitive LC-tandem mass spectrometry method for quantifying a BPA-Pyridine sufonyl derivative in breast milk.

  1. Zimmers SM, Browne EP, O’Keefe PW, Anderton DL, Kramer L, Reckhow DA, Arcaro KF. 2014 Determination of free Bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations in breastmilk of U.S. women using a sensitive LC/MS/MS method. Chemosphere 104:237-43. PMID: 24507723.
  2. Tao L, Kannan K, Wong CM, Arcaro KF, and Butenhoff JL. 2008 Perfluorinated compounds in human milk from Massachusetts, U.S.A. Environmental Science & Technology 42(8):3096-3101. PMID: 18497172.
  3. Reiner JL, Wong CM, Arcaro KF and Kannan K. 2007 Synthetic musk fragrances in human milk from the United States. Environmental Science & Technology 41(11):3815-3820. PMID: 17612154.
  4. Johnson-Restrepo B, Addink R, Wong C, Arcaro KF and Kannan K. 2007 Polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organochlorine pesticides in human milk from Massachusetts, USA. Journal Environmental Monitoring 9(11):1205-1212. PMID:17968447.
  5. Carpenter DO, Arcaro KF and Spink DC. 2002 Understanding human health effects of chemical mixtures. Environmental Health Perspectives 110(S1): 25-42. PMID: 11834461

Endocrine Resistance in Breast Cancer

I used Tamoxifen-selected breast cancer cell lines to investigate mechanisms underlying endocrine resistance in breast cancer. Using a combination of cell and molecular methods we identified potential therapeutic targets. The pathways and expression patterns altered in the cell lines were further studied in human tumors using tissue microarrays constructed in my laboratory. We were the first to report that PLD1 is highly expressed in some phospho-Akt-negative clinical breast cancers, indicating that PLD1 expression could be used as a biomarker for selecting patients for rapamycin-based therapies. We also were the first to report that expression of the cell cycle protein SKP2 is significantly correlated with phosphorylated Serine 10 p27 in triple negative breast cancers and suggested that levels of both markers need to be considered in deciding if a patient would benefit from therapies reducing SKP2. We used high density array analyses to determine pathways significantly altered by DNA methylation in Tamoxifen-resistant cell lines. We recently use similar methods to compare primary & recurrent breast cancers of women who received endocrine therapy.

  1. Williams KE, Jawale RM, Schneider SS, Otis CN, Pentecost BT, Arcaro KF. 2019 DNA methylation in breast cancers: Differences based on estrogen receptor status and recurrence. J Cell Biochem. 120(1):738-755. PMID: 30230580.
  2. Fitzgerald LM, Browne E P, Christie KD, Punska EC, Simmons LO, Williams KE, Pentecost BT, Jawale R, Otis CN, Arcaro KF. 2016 ELF5 and DOK7 regulation in anti-estrogen treated cells and tumors. Cancer Cell International 16(8). PMID: 26884724
  3. Fagan-Solis KD, Pentecost BT, Gozgit JM, Bentley BA, Marconi SM, Otis CN, Anderton DL, Schneider SS, Arcaro KF. 2014 SKP2 overexpression is associated with increased serine 10 phosphorylation of p27 (pSer10p27) in triple-negative breast cancer. Journal of Cellular Physiology 229(9):1160-9. PMID: 24443386.
  4. Gozgit JM, Pentecost BT, Marconi SA, Otis CN, and Arcaro KF. 2007 PLD1 is overexpressed in an ER-negative MCF-7 cell line variant and a subset of phospho-Akt-negative breast carcinomas. British Journal of Cancer 97(6):809-17. PMID: 17189381
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