Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 275–289 | Cite as

Mastitis and its Impact on Structure and Function in the Ruminant Mammary Gland



It is a given in biology that structure and function go hand-in-hand. At the level of the mammary alveoli, copious milk production depends on the proliferation of mammary epithelial cells and the biochemical and structural differentiation of these cells after parturition. For example, data from quantitative structural studies demonstrate that differences in milk production between beef and dairy cows correspond with a relative failure of alveolar cell differentiation in cattle not specifically selected for milk yield. It is likely, but not proven, that production differences within or between dairy breeds are also determined by differences in the capacity of alveolar cells to differentiate or to maintain an adequate state of differentiation. These observations strongly support the belief that insults from mastitis that lead to losses in mammary function are directly related to disruption of alveolar cell integrity, sloughing of cells, induced apoptosis, and increased appearance of poorly-differentiated cells. Ironically, reduced milk production in cases of subclinical mastitis, is also associated with increases in milk somatic cell count. Thus the elevated neutrophil migration evoked to fight inflammation can inadvertently rendered alveolar epithelial cells non-secretory. A challenge to future researchers will be to devise mastitis treatments and therapies that prevent and/or repair damage to alveolar structure and maximize subsequent secretory cell differentiation.


Alveoli Mastitis Differentiation Epithelium Mammary gland Bovine 



milk somatic cell count


Dairy Herd Improvement Association


polymorphonuclear leucocyte


tumor necrosis factor


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Dairy ScienceVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Dairy Science, Edgar Rhodes CenterUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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