Propionate alleviates palmitic acid–induced endoplasmic reticulum stress by enhancing autophagy in calf hepatic cells

Wenwen Gao, Zhiyuan Fang, Lin Lei, Lingxue Ju, Bo Jin, Juan J. Loor, Yusheng Liang, Zhen Shi, Taiyu Shen, Hao Yu, Meng Chen, Hongsheng Ouyang, Yuxiang Song, Zhe Wang, Guowen Liu, Xinwei Li, Xiliang Du

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Negative energy balance–induced high blood concentrations of free fatty acids during the early postpartum period in dairy cows is a major cause of liver injury. Cows in severe negative energy balance often have suboptimal intakes of feed, which contributes to shortfalls in production of ruminal propionate and circulating glucose. Although increasing propionate production by the rumen through feed additives such as propylene glycol is effective in helping cows alleviate the shortfall in dietary energy supply, mechanisms whereby propionate affects liver function beyond gluconeogenesis are unknown. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate whether propionate could protect calf hepatic cells from palmitic acid (PA)-induced lipotoxicity and the underlying mechanisms. Calf hepatic cells were isolated from 5 healthy calves (1 d old, female, 30–40 kg, fasting) and treated with various concentrations of PA (0, 100, 200, or 400 μM) and propionate (0, 1, 2, or 4 mM) after being administered with or without autophagic inhibitor. Propionate enhanced autophagic activity in calf hepatic cells, as indicated by elevated expression of autophagy markers LC3-II (microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3-II, encoded by MAP1LC3) and decreased expression of SQSTM1 (sequestosome-1, also called p62). Conversely, PA suppressed autophagic activity and decreased cell viability, which was improved by propionate in calf hepatic cells. In addition, propionate decreased the phosphorylation of proteins EIF2AK3 (kinase R/PKR like ER kinase) and ERN1 (inositol-requiring enzyme 1α) and cleaved ATF6 (activating transcription factor 6) in PA-treated calf hepatic cells, indicating the suppression effect of propionate on endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. However, inhibition of autophagic activity by chloroquine or bafilomycin A1 impede the beneficial effects of propionate on ER stress and cell viability. These results demonstrated that propionate alleviates ER stress and elevates cell viability in PA-treated calf hepatic cells by enhancing autophagy, which implies that autophagy may be a promising target in improving liver injury of dairy cows during transition period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9316-9326
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • autophagic activity
  • endoplasmic reticulum stress
  • hepatic cell
  • palmitic acid
  • propionate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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