Liver fibrosis is a common pathological change in the liver of dairy cows with fatty liver

Cai Zhang, Qi Shao, Mingchao Liu, Xueying Wang, Juan J. Loor, Qianming Jiang, Shunan Cuan, Xinwei Li, Jianguo Wang, Yuanxiao Li, Lei He, Yong Huang, Guowen Liu, Lin Lei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fatty liver (i.e., hepatic lipidosis) is a prevalent metabolic disorder in dairy cows during the transition period, characterized by excess hepatic accumulation of triglyceride (TG), tissue dysfunction, and cell death. Detailed pathological changes, particularly hepatic fibrosis, during fatty liver remain to be determined. Liver fibrosis occurs as a consequence of liver damage, resulting from the excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix, which distorts the architecture of the normal liver, compromising its normal synthetic and metabolic functions. Thus, we aimed to investigate liver fibrosis status and its potential causal factors including oxidative stress, hepatocyte apoptosis, and production of inflammatory cytokines in the liver of cows with fatty liver. Forty-five dairy cows (parity, 3–5) were selected, and liver biopsy and blood were collected on the second week postpartum (days in milk, 10–14 d). On the basis of the degree of lipid accumulation in liver, selected cows were categorized into normal (n = 25; TG <1% wet wt), mild fatty liver (n = 15; 1% ≤ TG <5% wet wt), and moderate fatty liver (n = 5; 5% ≤ TG <10% wet wt). Compared with normal cows, blood concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids and β-hydroxybutyrate, along with alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase activities, were greater in the cows with fatty liver (mild and moderate). Hepatic extracellular matrix deposition, as indicated by Picrosirius red staining, was greater in cows with fatty liver than those with normal ones. In addition, we observed an increased proportion of collagen type I fiber in extracellular matrix with increased lipid accumulation in the liver. Compared with normal cows, the area of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA)-positive staining along with the mRNA abundance of collagen type I α 1 (COL1A1), ACTA2 (gene encoding α-SMA), and transforming growth factor-β (TGFB) were greater in cows with fatty liver. Compared with normal cows, hepatic contents of malondialdehyde, glutathione disulfide, and 8-isoprostane were greater, whereas total antioxidant capacity, the hepatic content of glutathione, and activities of antioxidant indicators, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase, were lower in cows with fatty liver. The number of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling-positive cells and abundance of apoptosis-related molecules BAX, CASP3, CASP8, and CASP9 were greater in cows with fatty liver. However, mRNA abundance of the anti-apoptotic gene BCL2 did not differ. The mRNA abundance of pro-inflammatory cytokines including tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFA), interleukin-1β (IL1B), and interleukin-6 (IL6) was greater in the liver of cows with fatty liver. Overall, the present study indicated that fibrosis is a common pathological response to liver damage and is associated with oxidative stress, hepatocyte death, and inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2700-2715
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • dairy cow
  • fatty liver
  • liver fibrosis
  • liver injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Genetics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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