An increasing demand for calcium during pregnancy and lactation can result in both clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia during the early lactation period in several mammalian species, in particular the dairy cow. Serotonin (5-HT) was recently identified as a regulator of lactation and bone turnover. The purpose of this study was to determine whether supplementation of the maternal diet with a 5-HT precursor would increase maternal bone turnover and calcium mobilization to maintain appropriate circulating maternal concentrations of ionized calcium during lactation. Female Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 30) were fed either a control diet (n = 15) or a diet supplemented with the 5-HT precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP, 0.2%; n = 15) from day 13 of pregnancy through day 9 of lactation. Maternal serum and plasma (day 1 and day 9 of lactation), milk and pup weight (daily), mammary gland and bone tissue (day 9 of lactation) were collected for analysis. The 5-HTP diet elevated circulating maternal concentrations of 5-HT on day 1 and day 9 of lactation and parathyroid hormone related-protein (PTHrP) on day 9 of lactation (P < 0.033). In addition, 5-HTP supplementation increased total serum calcium concentrations on day 1 of lactation and total milk calcium concentration on day 9 of lactation (P < 0.032). Supplemental 5-HTP did not alter milk yield, maternal body weight, mammary gland structure, or pup litter weights (P > 0.05). Supplemental 5-HTP also resulted in increased concentrations of mammary 5-HT and PTHrP, as well as increased mRNA expression of rate-limiting enzyme in 5-HT synthesis, tryptophan hydroxylase 1, and Pthrp mRNA on day 9 of lactation (P < 0.028). In addition, supplementation of 5-HTP resulted in increased mRNA expression of maternal mammary calcium transporters and resorption of bone in the femur, indicated by increase osteoclast number and diameter as well as mRNA expression of classical markers of bone resorption on day 9 of lactation (P < 0.048). These results show that increasing 5-HT biosynthesis during the transition from pregnancy to lactation could be a potential therapeutic target to explore for prevention of subclinical and clinical hypocalcemia.
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