, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 49-66

Hormonal Regulation of Mammary Differentiation and Milk Secretion

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Abstract

The endocrine system coordinates development of the mammary gland with reproductive development and the demand of the offspring for milk. Three categories of hormones are involved. The levels of the reproductive hormones, estrogen, progesterone, placental lactogen, prolactin, and oxytocin, change during reproductive development or function and act directly on the mammary gland to bring about developmental changes or coordinate milk delivery to the offspring. Metabolic hormones, whose main role is to regulate metabolic responses to nutrient intake or stress, often have direct effects on the mammary gland as well. The important hormones in this regard are growth hormone, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, and insulin. A third category of hormones has recently been recognized, mammary hormones. It currently includes growth hormone, prolactin, PTHrP, and leptin. Because a full-term pregnancy in early life is associated with a reduction in breast carcinogenesis, an understanding of the mechanisms by which these hormones bring about secretory differentiation may offer clues to the prevention of breast cancer.