Local control of mammary development and function

Christopher H. Knight, Malcolm Peaker and Colin J. Wilde

Reviews of Reproduction 1998 May;3(2):104-12. Review.


For the mother, lactation represents the final stage of an investment in her genetic material. Like any investment it is costly and, hence, it needs to be carefully controlled. To her offspring, lactation means survival, so it must happen at any cost. This apparent conflict is rationalized by the mother devolving some control to the offspring while retaining ultimate sanction herself. Part of this results from overt and more subtle influences of the presence of young on the mother’s endocrine system, but an equally important part operates at each mammary gland to ensure that output is appropriate to the needs of the young, and no more. The young exert influence by removing milk, while the mother retains control by responding on an hour to hour basis to the presence of milk in the gland. Local control is inevitably most evident where secretion itself is concerned, but also operates to influence lactogenesis, gland development and, eventually, gland involution. This paper will review local control of mammary function,
emphasising the important role played by an autocrine inhibitory protein, the feedback inhibitor of lactation.

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