Higher plane of nutrition pre-weaning enhances Holstein calf mammary gland development through alterations in the parenchyma and fat pad transcriptome

M. Vailati-Riboni, R. E. Bucktrout, S. Zhan, A. Geiger, J. C. McCann, R. M. Akers, J. J. Loor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: To reduce costs of rearing replacement heifers, researchers have focused on decreasing age at breeding and first calving. To increase returns upon initiation of lactation the focus has been on increasing mammary development prior to onset of first lactation. Enhanced plane of nutrition pre-weaning may benefit the entire replacement heifer operation by promoting mammary gland development and greater future production. Methods: Twelve Holstein heifer calves (< 1 week old) were reared on 1 of 2 dietary treatments (n = 6/group) for 8 weeks: a control group fed a restricted milk replacer at 0.45 kg/d (R, 20% crude protein, 20% fat), or an accelerated group fed an enhanced milk replacer at 1.13 kg/d (EH, 28% crude protein, 25% fat). At weaning (8 weeks), calves were euthanized and sub-samples of mammary parenchyma (PAR) and mammary fat pad (MFP) were harvested upon removal from the body. Total RNA from both tissues was extracted and sequenced using the Illumina HiSeq2500 platform. The Dynamic Impact Approach (DIA) and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) were used for pathway analysis and functions, gene networks, and cross-talk analyses of the two tissues. Results: When comparing EH vs R 1561 genes (895 upregulated, 666 downregulated) and 970 genes (506 upregulated, 464 downregulated) were differentially expressed in PAR and MFP, respectively. DIA and IPA results highlight a greater proliferation and differentiation activity in both PAR and MFP, supported by an increased metabolic activity. When calves were fed EH, the PAR displayed transcriptional signs of greater overall organ development, with higher ductal growth and branching, together with a supportive blood vessel and nerve network. These activities were mediated by intracellular cascades, such as AKT, SHH, MAPK, and Wnt, probably activated by hormones, growth factors, and endogenous molecules. The analysis also revealed strong communication between MFP and PAR. Conclusion: The transcriptomics and bioinformatics approach highlighted key mechanisms that mediate the mammary gland response to a higher plane of nutrition in the pre-weaning period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number900
JournalBMC genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 11 2018


  • Calf
  • Mammary gland
  • Milk replacer
  • Transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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