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New insights into the importance of prolactin in dairy ruminants

Lacasse, P., Ollier, S., Lollivier, V., Boutinaud, M. (2016). New insights into the importance of prolactin in dairy ruminants, 99(1), 864-874.


© 2016 American Dairy Science Association. In most mammals, prolactin (PRL) is essential for maintaining lactation, and the suppression of PRL inhibits lactation. However, the involvement of PRL in the control of ruminant lactation is less clear, because inconsistent effects on milk yield have been observed with the short-term suppression of PRL by bromocriptine. Therefore, several experiments have been conducted to assess the galactopoietic role of PRL. In an initial experiment, cows in early lactation received daily injections of the dopamine agonist quinagolide for 9. wk. Quinagolide reduced milking-induced PRL release and caused a faster decline in milk production. Quinagolide also reduced mammary epithelial cell activity, survival, and proliferation. In goats, cabergoline, another dopamine agonist, caused a 28% decrease in milk yield the day after injection. In another experiment, cows were injected for 5. d with quinagolide, with quinagolide plus bovine PRL injected at milking time, or with vehicles only. Again, quinagolide reduced milk, protein, and lactose yields. Although PRL injections were not sufficient to restore milk yield, they tended to increase milk protein and lactose yields and increased the viability of mammary epithelial cells purified from milk. Recently, our team stimulated PRL secretion with daily injections of the dopamine antagonist domperidone for 5. wk. Milk production increased gradually and was greater in domperidone-treated cows during the last 4. wk of the treatment period. In most experiments where PRL secretion was manipulated, feed intake paralleled the changes of PRL concentration, supporting the idea that PRL increases feed intake to provide the nutrients necessary to support lactation in dairy ruminants. In late-lactation cows, quinagolide and cabergoline decreased milk production within the first day of treatment and induced more rapid changes in several markers of mammary gland involution after drying-off. In addition, quinagolide improved the resistance to intramammary infection, suggesting that PRL inhibition could be an alternative strategy for facilitating drying-off. Prolactin appears to directly affect mammary gland functions, but mammary gland responsiveness to PRL appears to be modulated by local and systemic factors. Therefore, the modulation of the number and isoforms of the PRL receptors as well as the expression of intracellular modulators of cell signaling in the mammary gland require further investigation. In conclusion, these data, combined with those from other studies, provide a good body of evidence that PRL is galactopoietic in dairy ruminants.

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