A system for the study of the regulation of the release of triacylglycerols by mammary gland slices was developed. By prelabelling the triacylglycerol pool with [3H]oleate measurements of release of both mass of triacylglycerol and of newly synthesized triacylglycerol have been made. Oxytocin and ovine prolactin stimulated release of triacylglycerol and protein, but the former was 40-fold more effective. Recombinant bovine prolactin was even less active than ovine prolactin, suggesting that contamination of the latter with oxytocin and/or vasopressin was partly responsible for its stimulatory effect on release. The findings support the view that the major effect of oxytocin is to stimulate contraction of myoepithelial cells and thus release secreted lipid stored in the lumen of the mammary gland alveoli. Ionomycin, a Ca2+ ionophore, also stimulated lipid release, but probably not by the usual apocrine route. Parathyroid hormone-related protein, a peptide produced by the mammary gland, did not stimulate release or antagonize the effects of oxytocin. Release of lipid was also measured in mammary gland slices from late-pregnant, early- and mid-lactating rats and lactating rats made prolactin-deficient. Hormonal stimulation in vitro showed the maturation of response seen in vivo on transition from late pregnancy to peak lactation. Prolactin deficiency resulted in decreased release of newly synthesized lipid in response to oxytocin.

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