The Role of Tight Junctions in Mammary Gland Function

  • Kerst Stelwagen
  • Kuljeet Singh


Tight junctions (TJ) are cellular structures that facilitate cell-cell communication and are important in maintaining the three-dimensional structure of epithelia. It is only during the last two decades that the molecular make-up of TJ is becoming unravelled, with two major transmembrane-spanning structural protein families, called occludin and claudins, being the true constituents of the TJ. These TJ proteins are linked via specific scaffolding proteins to the cell’s cytoskeleton. In the mammary gland TJ between adjacent secretory epithelial cells are formed during lactogenesis and are instrumental in establishing and maintaining milk synthesis and secretion, whereas TJ integrity is compromised during mammary involution and also as result of mastitis and periods of mammary inflamation (including mastitis). They prevent the paracellular transport of ions and small molecules between the blood and milk compartments. Formation of intact TJ at the start of lactation is important for the establishment of the lactation. Conversely, loss of TJ integrity has been linked to reduced milk secretion and mammary function and increased paracellular transport of blood components into the milk and vice versa. In addition to acting as a paracellular barrier, the TJ is increasingly linked to playing an active role in intracellular signalling. This review focusses on the role of TJ in mammary function of the normal, non-malignant mammary gland, predominantly in ruminants, the major dairy producing species.


Bovine Mammary gland Tight junction Milk production 



Extracellular matrix


Epidermal growth factor


Insulin-like growth factor




Lipoteichoic acid


Mammary epithelial cell(s)


Once-daily milking


Transepithelial electrical resistance


Transforming growth factor


Tight junction(s)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SciLactis LtdWaikato Innovation ParkHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.AgResearch LtdRuakura Research CentreHamiltonNew Zealand

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