Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Imaging lactation in action – how calcium ions fire-up cells to discharge milk

05 December 2020

Milk Make

For many, breastfeeding is one of the first, fundamental experiences of life, providing both essential nourishment and a lasting emotional and molecular bond between mother and child. However, failed lactation is common in new mothers, who struggle to successfully breastfeed. This can cause stress and impact on healthy feeding for the child, but there is limited understanding of some of the molecular mechanisms behind healthy lactation and related conditions. A new study has visualised contractions in the milk-producing mammary gland of mice, and revealed how specialised lining cells pulse to contractions driven by calcium (pictured in various experiments at different scales). Physical changes result from calcium ions firing through molecular pathways, meaning cells deform to discharge milk. Visualising how these calcium-driven bursts impact lactation develops our understanding of one of life’s most fundamental processes, which is the first step in developing new techniques to overcome the problems many mothers face.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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