Coastal Peru and Northern Chile, with the driest
climate in the world, offers exceptional preservation of ancient remains in the form of natural
mummification. With the presence of soft tissues, the identification of pathology and determination of
cause of death is possible. Through antibody techniques, the morphology of cellular structures that were
present before death can be reconstructed, thus allowing identification of physiological or pathological
activity resulting from tissue changes. It is widely known that the concentration of estrogen and
progesterone receptors in the breast varies throughout menarche, pregnancy, and menopause. While it is
clear that antigen detection can be used in well-preserved modern autopsy tissue and biopsy samples,
antigen survival studies over the years and centuries has not been widely studied.
Breast tissue from 24 Peruvian mummies, dating from
700-3,000 years before present, were immunostained with antibodies against estrogen receptor (ER),
progesterone receptor (PR), and human milk fat globular protein (MAM-6) using BioGenex Super Sensitive
Detection System with biotin-streptavidin reagents, alkaline phosphatase label and fast red substrate
(HK182-5K). Positivity was graded negative to three plus at 100x magnification by two observers based on
the maximum staining of modern controls. Specimens positive for MAM-6 were stained and studied with
| MAM6 || 6-3+ || 3-2+ || 2-1+ || 13 neg.|
| ER || 5-3+ || 7-2+ || 5-1+ || 7 neg.|
| PR || 3-3+ || 5-2+ || 4-1+ || 12 neg.|
The four teenagers had one not yet developed a menstrual cycle, one was in early puberty, one had
developed her cycle, one was pregnant (she was killed by a blow to the head). There were eleven adults
20-39 years old two of whom died from a hemorrhage during the delivery. Five were in a normal stage of
their menstrual cycle, one was pregnant, one lactating probably with a child, and two with an early
menopause. There were five adults over 40 years old. One died after a delivery (the cord was present),
two were lactating probably with an older child, and two were menopausal.
This study shows that antigens from human milk fat
globular protein, estrogen and progesterone receptors have survived for as much as 3000 years.
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