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Review: The pre-pubertal bovine mammary gland: unlocking the potential of the future herd

Geiger, A. J.
Animal 2019 v.13 no.S1 pp. s4
calves, epithelium, estradiol, feeding level, growth factors, herds, immune system, lactating females, mammary development, mammary glands, milk yield, nutrition, progesterone, puberty, signal transduction
Historically, pre-pubertal development of the bovine mammary gland (MG) has received little attention compared to later development. Recent evidence suggests not only that this period represents a very active time in the development of the MG but also that the first 90 days of life can partially dictate future productivity of the lactating cow. The MG, often considered quiescent during early life (first 3 months), is now known to increase in size by over 60-fold in the same period. The importance of sex steroids in MG development is well classified, but a complex signaling network exists among estrogen, progesterone and other growth factors and hormones. Complicating our understanding of this developmental period further is the discovery that pre-weaning nutrition of the calf not only influences the growth of the mammary parenchyma but may also alter the way in which it responds to mammogenic stimuli. Recent data suggest that feeding calves a higher plane of nutrition improves the ability of the mammary epithelium to respond to estradiol and also alters the way in which the mammary parenchyma and fat pad communicate. It is clear that early life nutrition, although able to influence the MG, is still poorly understood mechanistically. For example, additional evidence suggests that increased feeding rates in early life alter the morphology of myoepithelial cells in the mammary epithelium. Further data have also suggested a role for other cell types, such as immune cells, in the penetration of the mammary parenchyma into the fat pad during the early life development of the MG suggesting that mammary development is not only controlled by the local tissue population (parenchyma and fat pad) but perhaps systemically by other tissue types (i.e., immune system). Understanding the roles of these various stimuli and signaling pathways as they relate to the development of the MG in early life may hold the key to unlocking the potential for the optimal development of this crucial organ and, in turn, may lead to improvements in other phases of mammary development and milk yield potential.