Metabolic adaptations are triggered in the maternal organism to synthesize milk with an adequate concentration of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) required to the newborn. They may be a high uptake of dietary linoleic acid and its conversion to LC-PUFAs by desaturases of fatty acids (FADS) 1 and 2 in the mammary gland (MG). It is unknown if they also occur from onset of pregnancy.

The aim of this study was to explore the participation of the MG as a mechanism involved in LC-PUFAs synthesis to support their demand during pregnancy and lactation in rats.

The expression of desaturases in MG was significantly (P<0.05) higher (12.3-fold for FADS1 and 41.2-fold for FADS2) during the late pregnancy and throughout lactation (31.7-fold for FADS1 and 67.1-fold higher for FADS2) than in nonpregnant rats. SREBF-1c showed a similar pattern of increase during pregnancy but remained higher only during the early lactation (11.7-fold, P<0.005). Transcript of ELOVL6 and FASN increased throughout pregnancy and lactation, respectively. ELOVL5 mRNA increased in MG only during lactation (2.8 to 5.3-fold, P<0.005). Accordingly, a higher content of LC-PUFAs was found in lactating MG than in nonpregnant rats.

Results suggest that MG participates from late pregnancy and throughout lactation by expressing desaturases and elongases as a mechanism involved in LC-PUFAs synthesis, probably by SREBF-1c. Because desaturases and ELOVL5 were expressed in cultured lactocytes and such expression was downregulated by linoleic and arachidonic acid, these cells may be a useful model for understanding the regulatory mechanisms for LC-PUFAs synthesis in MG.