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J Physiol. 1999 Sep 15;519 Pt 3:885-900.

Modulation of mammary development and programmed cell death by the frequency of milk removal in lactating goats.

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Cancer and Polio Research Fund Laboratories, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Crown Street, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.


1. Unilateral changes in mammary cell number are elicited when one gland is milked more or less frequently than the contralateral gland in lactating goats. These changes were investigated using histochemical and immunocytochemical markers of mammary cell types, and the degree of mammary apoptosis was determined by end-labelling of fragmented DNA. 2. Histological analysis confirmed that unilateral cessation of milking initiated involution and cell loss preferentially in the unmilked gland. The presence of fragmented DNA and morphological characteristics consistent with apoptosis demonstrated that these changes in mammary cell number in unmilked glands were, in part, the result of programmed alveolar cell death. 3. De-differentiation of the remaining secretory cells to ductal epithelial cells occurred with an increase in staining of cytokeratin markers and decreased staining by peanut lectin and casein antisera. 4. Differential once- and thrice-daily milking of lactating goats was also associated with unilateral changes in mammary cell number and milk yield. Milk yield and alveolar size were reduced after 4 weeks of infrequent milking. The latter was due to the increased loss of secretory cells by apoptosis, as indicated by a higher degree of fragmented DNA laddering. 5. After 10 weeks of differential milking, a homogeneous secretory morphology, albeit with smaller alveoli, was maintained in thrice-daily milked glands. Once-daily milked glands possessed a heterogeneous composition of terminal structures, resulting in the simultaneous presence of secretory and involuting alveoli as well as resting ductules. 6. The differences in programmed cell death and mammary morphology between unmilked and twice-daily milked glands, and between once- and thrice-daily milked glands, suggests that mammary apoptosis is subject to modulation by intra-mammary mechanisms sensitive to the frequency of milk removal.

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