Deakin University

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Fur seal adaptations to lactation: insights into mammary gland function

journal contribution
posted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by Julie Sharp, K Cane, Christophe Lefevre, John ArnouldJohn Arnould, Kevin Nicholas
The fur seal (Arctocephalus spp. and Callorhinus spp., members of the pinniped family) is a mammal with the unusual capability to modulate its lactation cycle by turning milk production on and off without the typical mammalian regression and involution of the mammary gland. Lactation has evolved from constraints arising from the spatial and temporal separation of infant nursing and maternal foraging as the mother gives birth and feeds the pup on land while acquisition of nutrients for milk production occurs at sea. The lactation cycle begins with the female fur seal undergoing a perinatal fast of approximately 1 wk, after which time she departs the breeding colony to forage at sea. For the remainder of the long lactation period (116–540 days), the mother alternates between short periods ashore suckling the young with longer periods of up to 4 wk of foraging at sea. Milk production continues while foraging at sea, but at less than 20% the rate of production on land. Fur seals produce one of the richest milk reported, with a very high lipid content contributing up to 85% of total energy. This feature serves as an adaptation to the young's need to produce an insulating blubber layer against heat loss and to serve as an energy store when the mother is away foraging at sea. This atypical pattern of lactation means mothers have long periods with no suckling stimulus and can transfer high-energy milk rapidly while on land to minimize time away from foraging grounds. The absence of suckling stimulus and milk removal during foraging does not result in the onset of involution with associated apoptosis of mammary secretory cells and a subsequent progressive breakdown of the cellular structure of the mammary gland. The mechanisms controlling lactation in the fur seal mammary gland have been investigated using molecular and cellular techniques. These findings have shed light on the processes by which the unique features of lactation in the fur seal are regulated.



Current topics in developmental biology




275 - 308


Academic Press


Boston, Mass.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2006, Elsevier