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J Mol Endocrinol. 2008 Sep;41(3):103-16. doi: 10.1677/JME-08-0035. Epub 2008 Jun 5.

Uncoupling the mechanisms that facilitate cell survival in hormone-deprived bovine mammary explants.

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  • 1CRC for Innovative Dairy Products, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Gate 13 Royal Parade, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


Mammary explants can be hormonally stimulated to mimic the biochemical changes that occur during lactogenesis. Previous studies using mammary explants concluded that the addition of exogenous macromolecules were required for mammary epithelial cells to remain viable in culture. The present study examines the survival of mammary explants from the dairy cow using milk protein gene expression as a functional marker of lactation and cell viability. Mammary explants cultured from late pregnant cows mimicked lactogenesis and showed significantly elevated milk protein gene expression after 3 days of culture with lactogenic hormones. The subsequent removal of exogenous hormones from the media for 10 days resulted in the down-regulation of milk protein genes. During this time, the mammary explants remained hormone responsive, the alveolar architecture was maintained and the expression of milk protein genes was re-induced after a second challenge with lactogenic hormones. We report that a population of bovine mammary epithelial cells have an intrinsic capacity to remain viable and hormone responsive for extended periods in chemically defined media without any exogenous macromolecules. In addition, we found mammary explant viability was dependent on de novo protein and RNA synthesis. Global functional microarray analysis showed that differential expression of genes involved in energy production, immune responses, oxidative stress and apoptosis signalling might contribute to cell survival. As the decline in milk production in dairy cattle after peak lactation results in considerable economic loss, the identification of novel survival genes may be used as genetic markers for breeding programmes to improve lactational persistency in dairy cows.

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