Mammary Glands and Their Role in Feeding

Mammary glands are glands located in the breasts of females that are responsible for lactating, or milk production. Both males and females have glandular tissue within the breasts. However, after puberty, the glandular tissue begins to develop in response to estrogen release in females. Mammary glands only produce milk after childbirth. Various hormones, such as oxytocin and prolactin, have a role in the production of milk.

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and is secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland.

Secretion depends on electrical activity of neurons in the hypothalamus. During breastfeeding, oxytocin promotes the movement of milk into the breast, allowing it to be excreted by the nipple. There is a positive feedback involved in the milk-ejection reflex. When a baby sucks at the breast of its mother, the stimulation leads to oxytocin secretion into the blood which then causes milk to be let down into the breast. Oxytocin is also released into the brain to help stimulate further oxytocin secretion.

These processes are self-limiting; production of the hormone is stopped after the baby is delivered or when the baby stops feeding.

Prolactin is a hormone named originally after its function: to promote lactation in mammals in response to the suckling of young after birth. In humans, prolactin is produced both in the front portion of the pituitary gland and in a range of sites elsewhere in the body. Lactotroph cells in the pituitary gland produce prolactin, where it is stored in small containers called vesicles.

Prolactin is released into the bloodstream by a process called exocytosis.

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One of the main regulators of the production of prolactin from the pituitary gland is the hormone called dopamine. It is produced by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain directly above the pituitary gland. Dopamine restrains prolactin production, so the more dopamine there is, the less prolactin is released. Prolactin itself enhances the secretion of dopamine, so this creates a negative feedback loop.

Lack of prolactin can lead to Sheehan’s syndrome, also known as Simmond syndrome. If a woman suffers through severe blood loss or low pressure during or after childbirth, severe damage can be done to the pituitary gland in the brain. Some of the symptoms of this syndrome are absence of menstrual periods, loss of pubic or underarm hair, difficulty or inability to breastfeed, and fatigue. To treat this, the doctor would place the patient under hormone replacement therapy with synthetic versions of it. However, if a tumor on the pituitary gland is the source of the problem, the best solution is its surgical removal.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia is a condition, only found in men, that is related to the overproduction of oxytocin. Oxytocin helps control the production of testosterone, therefore if there is an overproduction of oxytocin, then there is an overproduction of testosterone. This causes an enlargement of the prostate gland in males due to lack of regulation. Some symptoms are a blocked urethra and problems with the urination tract. Treatments for an enlarged prostate include medication, such as alpha blockers, and surgery.

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Mammary Glands and Their Role in Feeding. (2023, Jan 08). Retrieved from

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