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Animal. 2009 Jun;3(6):858-70. doi: 10.1017/S1751731109004157.

Insulin regulation of amino-acid metabolism in the mammary gland of sheep in early lactation and fed fresh forage.

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1Food, Metabolism & Microbiology Section, Food & Textiles Group, AgResearch Limited, Grasslands Research Centre, Private Bag 11 008, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.


Insulin plays an important role in regulating the partitioning of nutrients to the mammary gland, particularly in lactating ruminants fed concentrate-based diets. There is evidence that the nutritional status of the animals might also affect their response to insulin. This is largely untested in early lactating ruminants fed fresh forage. To investigate nutritional effects on insulin response, 12 lactating sheep, housed indoors, were allocated to one of two treatment groups (hyperinsulinaemic euglycaemic clamp (HEC) or control) in a randomised block design and fed perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)/white clover (Trifolium repens) pasture. Mammary amino acid (AA) net uptake from plasma and utilisation for milk protein synthesis was measured during the 4th day of the HEC using arterio-venous concentration differences, and 1-13C-leucine was used to estimate whole body and mammary gland leucine kinetics. There was no change in feed intake, milk protein output and mammary blood flow during the HEC (P > 0.1). The HEC decreased (P < 0.1) the arterial concentrations of all essential AA (EAA) except histidine. The mammary net uptake of some EAA (isoleucine, leucine, methionine and phenylalanine) was reduced by the HEC (P < 0.1). Leucine oxidation in the mammary gland was not altered during the HEC (P > 0.1) but mammary protein synthesis was reduced by the HEC (P < 0.05). These results show that sheep mammary gland can adapt to changing AA precursor supply to maintain milk protein production during early lactation, when fed fresh forage. How this occurs remains unclear, and this area deserves further study.

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