In humans, there is one pair of mammary glands, also known as mammae, or breasts. They are rudimentary in both sexes until the age of puberty when, in response to ovarian hormones, they begin to develop in the female. During pregnancy, they distend still further in preparation for nursing the infant. Pregnant women are prevented from lactating (producing milk) by the presence in the blood of high levels of estrogen and progesterone, secreted by the placenta until birth occurs.
After birth, response to prolactin, the milk-stimulating hormone, is no longer inhibited by placental hormones, and lactation begins. Mammary tissue contains between 15 and 20 compartments called lobes, each of which is divided into smaller compartments called lobules. The lobes and lobules are connected by a network of tubes whose cells manufacture the liquid and fatty substances that form milk. The tubes of each lobe connect with a duct, and all ducts lead to the nipple, where the milk is secreted when the nipple is sucked by the young. The letdown of milk during the nursing process is aided by oxytocin, a hormone secreted by the pituitary. The physical force of an infant's sucking on the breast is a major stimulus to milk production. Disorders of the mammary gland include mastitis and breast cancer.
Mammary glands are the organs that, in mammals, produce milk for the sustenance of the young. These exocrine glands are enlarged and modified sweat glands and give mammals their name. The mammary glands of domestic mammals containing more than two breasts are called dugs.
All the milk-secreting tissue leading to a single lactiferous duct is called a "simple mammary gland"; a "complex mammary gland" is all the simple mammary glands serving one nipple. Humans normally have two complex mammary glands, one in each breast, and each complex mammary gland consists of 10–20 simple glands. The presence of more than two nipples is known as polythelia and the presence of more than two complex mammary glands as polymastia.
At the time of birth, the baby has lactiferous ducts but no alveoli. Little branching occurs before puberty when ovarian estrogens stimulate branching differentiation of the ducts into spherical masses of cells that will become alveoli. True secretory alveoli only develop in pregnancy, where rising levels of estrogen and progesterone cause further branching and differentiation of the duct cells, together with an increase in adipose tissue and a richer blood flow.
Colostrum is secreted in late pregnancy and for the first few days after giving birth. True milk secretion (lactation) begins a few days later due to a reduction in circulating progesterone and the presence of the hormone prolactin. The suckling of the baby causes the release of the hormone oxytocin which stimulates contraction of the myoepithelial cells.
|Goat, sheep, horse |
Male mammals typically have rudimentary mammary glands and nipples, with a few exceptions: male mice don't have nipples, and male horses lack nipples and mammary glands. The male Dyak fruit bat has lactating mammary glands; male lactation occurs infrequently in some species, including humans.
Mammary glands are true protein factories, and several companies have constructed transgenic animals, mainly goats and cows, in order to produce proteins for pharmaceutical use. Complex glycoproteins such as monoclonal antibodies or antithrombin cannot be produced by genetically engineered bacteria, and the production in live mammals is much cheaper than the use of mammalian cell cultures.