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J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2013 Jun;18(2):121-31. doi: 10.1007/s10911-013-9289-1. Epub 2013 May 15.

The nipple: a simple intersection of mammary gland and integument, but focal point of organ function.

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Medical Sciences, Indiana University School of Medicine, Jordan Hall, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Having glands that secrete milk to nourish neonatal offspring characterizes all mammals. We provide a brief overview of the development and anatomy of nipples and mammary glands in monotremes, marsupials, and marine mammals, and focus on the nipples and mammary glands in terrestrial eutherian species. We first classify eutherians into three groups: the altricial, precocial, and arboreal types based on their rearing system. We then summarize the physiology of lactation and the cell biology of nipples with specific focus on comparing these in the mouse, cow, and human, which represent the three different groups. Finally we propose that the nipple is an example of specialized epidermis. As specialized epidermis, it is dependent the underlying stroma for development and maintenance in adult life. The development of the nipple and signaling pathways that regulate its formation are described.

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