Membrane events during milk fat secretion were analyzed by freeze-fracture of the rat mammary gland. Two modes of milk fat secretion were observed: extrusion of fat droplets surrounded by a portion of the apical plasma membrane of the alveolar epithelial cells and, less frequently, release into the alveolar lumen of fat droplets contained in intracytoplasmic vacuoles. The extrusion process consists of two asynchronous events: clearing of membrane particles (probably including integral membrane proteins) and bulging of the apical plasma membrane. Most fat droplets are extruded with a bilayer membrane envelope (milk fat globule membrane) partially devoid of particles. The segregation of membrane particles may represent the onset of a process of structural degradation of the milk fat globule membrane.

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