, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 135-146

Mammary Gland Immunity and Mastitis Susceptibility

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Abstract

Lactation is considered the final phase of the mammalian reproductive cycle, and the mammary gland provides milk for nourishment and disease resistance to the newborn. However, the cellular and soluble immune components associated with mammary tissues and secretion also can play an important role in protecting the gland from infectious diseases, such as mastitis. Mastitis can affect essentially all lactating mammals, but is especially problematic for dairy cattle. The most recent estimates from the National Mastitis Council suggest that mastitis affects one third of all dairy cows and will cost the dairy industry over 2 billion dollars annually in the United States in lost profits (National Mastitis Council (1996) Current Concepts in Bovine Mastitis, National Mastitis Council, Madison, WI). The overall impact of mastitis on the quality and quantity of milk produced for human consumption has provided the impetus to better understand the pathophysiology of the mammary gland and develop ways to enhance disease resistance through immunoregulation. As such, the bovine species has played a critical and prominent role in our current understanding of mammary gland immunobiology. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of mammary gland immunity and how the stage of lactation can impact important host defenses. While this review emphasizes the bovine system, comparisons to humans and other domestic mammals will be addressed as well.