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Amino Acids. 2009 May;37(1):89-95. doi: 10.1007/s00726-008-0151-5. Epub 2008 Aug 6.

Regulatory role for amino acids in mammary gland growth and milk synthesis.

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Department of Animal and Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


The health and growth of mammalian neonates critically depend on the yield and composition of their mothers' milk. However, impaired lactogenesis occurs in both women in response to stress and hormonal imbalance and in primiparous sows which exhibit low voluntary feed intake and underdevelopment of mammary tissues. Because of ethical concerns over lactation research with women and children, swine is often used as an animal model to study mammary gland development and the underlying regulatory mechanisms. Available evidence from work with lactating sows shows that amino acids are not only building blocks for protein but are also key regulators of metabolic pathways critical to milk production. Particularly, arginine is the common substrate for the generation of nitric oxide (NO; a major vasodilator and angiogenic factor) and polyamines (key regulators of protein synthesis). Thus, modulation of the arginine-NO pathway may provide a new strategy to enhance the growth (including vascular growth) of mammary tissue and its uptake of nutrients, therefore improving lactation performance in mammals. In support of this proposition, supplementing 0.83% L: -arginine (as 1% L: -arginine-HCl) or 50 mg/day diethylenetriamine-NO adduct (NO donor) to diets of lactating primiparous sows increased milk production and the growth of suckling piglets. Future studies with animal models (e.g., pigs, sheep, cows, and rats) are necessary to elucidate the underlying mechanisms at molecular, cellular, tissue, and whole-body levels.

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