Milk lipid globules of various species are surrounded by a membrane structure that is separated from the triglyceride core of the globule by a densely staining fuzzy coat layer of 10- to 50-nm thickness. This internal coat structure remains attached to the membrane during isolation and extraction with low- and high-salt buffers, is insoluble in nondenaturing detergents, and is enriched in an acidic glycoprotein (butyrophilin) with an apparent Mr of 67,000. Guinea pig antibodies against this protein, which show cross-reaction with the corresponding protein in some (goat) but not other (human, rat) species, have been used for localization of butyrophilin on frozen sections of various tissues from cow by immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. Significant reaction is found only in milk-secreting epithelial cells and not in other cell types of mammary gland and various epithelial tissues. In milk-secreting cells, the staining is restricted to the apical cell surface, including budding milk lipid globules, and to the periphery of the milk lipid globules contained in the alveolar lumina. These findings indicate that butyrophilin, which is constitutively secreted by surface budding in coordination with milk lipid production, is located at the apical surface and is not detected at basolateral surfaces, in endoplasmic reticulum, and in Golgi apparatus. This protein structure represents an example of a cell type-specific cytoskeletal component in a cell apex. It is suggested that this antigen provides a specific marker for the apical surface of milk-secreting cells and that butyrophilin is involved in the vectorial discharge of milk lipid globules.

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