Grazing dairy cows had decreased interferon-γ, tumor necrosis factor, and interleukin-17, and increased expression of interleukin-10 during the first week after calving

Axel Heiser, Allison McCarthy, Neil Wedlock, Susanne Meier, Jane Kay, Caroline Walker, Mallory A. Crookenden, Murray D. Mitchell, Stuart Morgan, Kate Watkins, Juan J. Loor, John R. Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Peripartum, and especially during the transition period, dairy cows undergo dramatic physiological changes. These coincide with an increased risk of disease during the first 2 wk after calving and have been linked to dairy cows failing to achieve production as well as reproductive targets. Previous evidence suggests that these physiological changes affect the immune system and that transition dairy cows experience some form of reduced immunocompetence. However, almost all of these studies were undertaken in high-production, housed dairy cows. Grazing cows have much lower levels of production and this study aimed to provide clarity whether or not the dysfunctional attributes of the peripartum immune system reported in high production housed cows are evident in these animals. Therefore, cell culture techniques, flow cytometry, and quantitative PCR were applied to analyze the cellular composition of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from transition dairy cows as well as the performance of these cells in an in vitro assay. First, a combination of in vitro stimulation and quantitative PCR for cytokines was validated as a quantifiable immunocompetence assay in 29 cattle and a correlation of quantitative PCR and ELISA demonstrated. Second, the relative number of T helper cells, cytotoxic T cells, B cells, γδ T cells, natural killer cells, and monocytes in peripheral blood was measured, of which B cells and natural killer cells increased in number postcalving (n = 29) compared with precalving. Third, following in vitro stimulation cytokine profiles indicated decreased expression of IFNγ, tumor necrosis factor, and IL-17 and increased expression of IL-10 wk 1 after calving, which later all returned to precalving values (n = 39). Additionally, treatment of transition cows with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (i.e., carprofen) administered on d 1, 3, and 5 postcalving (n = 19; untreated control n = 20) did not affect the cytokine expression at any time point. In conclusion, an immunocompetence assay has been developed that highlights a characteristic expression pattern for IFNγ, tumor necrosis factor, IL-17, and IL-10 that reflects a state of reduced immunocompetence in moderate-yielding pasture-based transition cows after calving, which is similar to that described for higher-yielding housed cows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)937-946
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Immunity
  • Immunocompetence
  • Peripartum period
  • Transition cow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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