Professor Cathrin Brisken (MD, PhD)

Cathrin Brisken, MD, PhD, is Associate Professor of Life Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). Dr. Brisken is internationally recognized for her work on endocrine control of mammary gland development and breast carcinogenesis. Dr. Brisken received her MD and her PhD degree in Biophysics from the Georg August University of Göttingen, Germany. She completed her postdoctoral work in cancer biology with Dr. R.A. Weinberg at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research in Cambridge, MA, USA. She previously held appointments at the Cancer Center of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC).

Research in Dr. Brisken’s laboratory focuses on the cellular and molecular underpinnings of estrogen and progesterone receptor signaling in the breast and the respective roles of these hormones and hormonally active compounds in carcinogenesis. The aim is to understand how recurrent exposures to endogenous and exogenous hormones contribute to breast carcinogenesis in order to better prevent and treat the disease. The laboratory has pioneered in vivo approaches to genetically dissect the role of the reproductive hormones in driving mouse mammary gland development and shown how they control intercellular communication. Dr. Brisken’s group has developed ex vivo and humanized mouse models using patient samples to study hormone action in human tissues in normal settings and during disease progression.

Dr. Brisken is member of the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG) Biological Protocol Working Group. She served as Dean of EPFL Doctoral School (more than 2000 PhD students in 18 PhD programs), as member of the Hinterzartener Kreis, the oncology think-tank associated with the German Science Foundation, and numerous Swiss, European, and AACR committees.

Research Interests

Professor Brisken is internationally recognized for her contributions to our understanding of hormonal control of breast development. Her research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which reproductive hormones control cell proliferation, cell-cell communication and morphogenesis in the mouse mammary gland in vivo, and how these contribute to human breast carcinogenesis. Prof. Brisken’s laboratory also studies how exogenous hormones and hormonally active chemicals (endocrine disruptors) affect the breast.

Relevant Publications


  1. Rajaram, R., Buric, D., Caikovski M., Ayyanan, A., G., Rougemont, J., Shan, J., Vainio, S., Yalcin-Ozuysal, O, Brisken, C. Progesterone and Wnt4 control mammary stem cells via myoepithelial crosstalk (2015) EMBO J. 2015 Mar 4;34(5):641-52
  2. Brisken C. (2013) Progesterone signalling in breast cancer: a neglected hormone coming into the limelight. Nat Rev Cancer.13(6):385-96
  3. Tanos, T.,Sflomos, G., Echeverria, P. C., Ayyanan, A., Gutierrez, M., Delaloye, J.-F., Raffoul, W., Fiche, M., Dougall, W., Schneider, P., Yalcin-Ozuysal,O., Brisken C (2013) Progesterone/ RANKL is a major regulatory axis in the human breast Sci Transl Med. 2013 Apr 24;5(182)
  4. Ayyanan, A., Laribi, O., Schuepbach-Mallepell, S., Schrick, C., Gutierrez, M., Tanos, T..Lefebvre, G., Rougemont, J., Yalcin-Ozuysal, O,. Brisken, C. (2011) Perinatal exposure to bisphenol A increases adult mammary gland progesterone response and cell number Mol. Endocrinol. 25(11): 1915-23
  5. Yalçın-Özuysal, O., Fiche, M., Guitierrez, M., Wagner, K. U., Raffoul, W., Brisken, C. (2010). Antagonistic roles of Notch and p63 in controlling mammary epithelial cell fates. Cell Death Diff 17(10): 1600-10
  6. Beleut, M., Rajaram, R., Caikovski, M., Ayyanan, A., Germano, D., Choi, Y., Schneider, P., Brisken, C. (2010). Two distinct mechanisms underlie progesterone-induced proliferation in the mammary gland. PNAS, 107(7): 2989-94
  7. Cicalese, A*.; Bonizzi, G*.; Pasi C. E.; Faretta, M.; Ronzoni, S.; Giulini, B.; Brisken, C.; Minucci, S.; Di Fiore, P. P.; Pelicci, P. G. (2009). The tumor suppressor p53 regulates polarity of self-renewing divisions in mammary stem cells. Cell 18; 138(6): 1083-95
  8. Mani, S. A., Guo, W., Liao, M.J., Ng. Eaton, E., Ayyanan, A., Zhou, A., Brooks, M., Reinhard, F., Zhang, C.C., Shipitsin, M., Campbell, L. l., Polyak, K., Brisken, C., Yang, J., Weinberg, R. A. (2008). The epithelial-mesenchymal transition generates cells with properties of stem cells. Cell 133(4): 704-15
  9. Ciarloni, L., Mallepell, S., Brisken, C. (2007). Amphiregulin is an essential mediator of estrogen receptor alpha function in mammary gland development. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 104(13): 5455-60
  10. Mallepell, S., Krust, A., Chambon, P., Brisken, C. (2006). Paracrine signaling through the epithelial Estrogen Receptor is required for proliferation and morphogenesis in the mammary gland.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 103 (7): 2196-2201