Bears produce the most altricial neonates of any placental mammal. We hypothesized that the transition from colostrum to mature milk in bears reflects a temporal and biochemical adaptation for altricial development and immune protection. Comparison of bear milks with milks of other eutherians yielded distinctive protein profiles. Proteomic and metabolomic analysis of serial milk samples collected from six giant pandas showed a prolonged transition from colostrum to main-phase lactation over approximately 30 days. Particularly striking are the persistence or sequential appearance of adaptive and innate immune factors. The endurance of immunoglobulin G suggests an unusual duration of trans-intestinal absorption of maternal antibodies, and is potentially relevant to the underdeveloped lymphoid system of giant panda neonates. Levels of certain milk oligosaccharides known to exert anti-microbial activities and/or that are conducive to the development of neonatal gut microbiomes underwent an almost complete changeover around days 20–30 postpartum, coincident with the maturation of the protein profile. A potential metabolic marker of starvation was detected, the prominence of which may reflect the natural postpartum period of anorexia in giant panda mothers. Early lactation in giant pandas, and possibly in other ursids, appears to be adapted for the unique requirements of unusually altricial eutherian neonates.
biochemistry, developmental biology, immunology
Natural Sciences in General