Gene regulation of UDP-galactose synthesis and transport: potential rate-limiting processes in initiation of milk production in humans

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Aug 1;303(3):E365-76. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00175.2012. Epub 2012 May 29.


Lactose synthesis is believed to be rate limiting for milk production. However, understanding the molecular events controlling lactose synthesis in humans is still rudimentary. We have utilized our established model of the RNA isolated from breast milk fat globule from seven healthy, exclusively breastfeeding women from 6 h to 42 days following delivery to determine the temporal coordination of changes in gene expression in the carbohydrate metabolic processes emphasizing the lactose synthesis pathway in human mammary epithelial cell. We showed that milk lactose concentrations increased from 75 to 200 mM from 6 to 96 h. Milk progesterone concentrations fell by 65% at 24 h and were undetectable by day 3. Milk prolactin peaked at 36 h and then declined progressively afterward. In concordance with lactose synthesis, gene expression of galactose kinase 2, UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase 2 (UGP2), and phosphoglucomutase 1 increased 18-, 10-, and threefold, respectively, between 6 and 72 h. Between 6 and 96 h, gene expression of UDP-galactose transporter 2 (SLC35A2) increased threefold, whereas glucose transporter 1 was unchanged. Gene expression of lactose synthase no. 3 increased 1.7-fold by 96 h, whereas α-lactalbumin did not change over the entire study duration. Gene expression of prolactin receptor (PRLR) and its downstream signal transducer and activator of transcription complex 5 (STAT5) were increased 10- and 2.5-fold, respectively, by 72 h. In summary, lactose synthesis paralleled the induction of gene expression of proteins involved in UDP-galactose synthesis and transport, suggesting that they are potentially rate limiting in lactose synthesis and thus milk production. Progesterone withdrawal may be the signal that triggers PRLR signaling via STAT5, which may in turn induce UGP2 and SLC35A2 expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Lactation / blood
  • Lactation / genetics*
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Mammary Glands, Human / metabolism
  • Mammary Glands, Human / physiology
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics*
  • Metabolism / genetics
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Pregnancy
  • Uridine Diphosphate Galactose / biosynthesis*
  • Uridine Diphosphate Galactose / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Hormones
  • Uridine Diphosphate Galactose