Paired-end RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) was used to explore the bovine transcriptome from the mammary tissue of 12 Chinese Holstein cows with 6 extremely high and 6 low phenotypic values for milk protein percentage. We defined the differentially expressed transcripts between the two comparison groups, extremely high and low milk protein percentage during the peak lactation (HP vs LP) and during the non-lactating period (HD vs LD), respectively. Within the differentially expressed genes (DEGs), we detected 157 at peak lactation and 497 in the non-lactating period with a highly significant correlation with milk protein concentration. Integrated interpretation of differential gene expression indicated that SERPINA1, CLU, CNTFR, ERBB2, NEDD4L, ANG, GALE, HSPA8, LPAR6 and CD14 are the most promising candidate genes affecting milk protein concentration. Similarly, LTF, FCGR3A, MEGF10, RRM2 and UBE2C are the most promising candidates that in the non-lactating period could help the mammary tissue prevent issues with inflammation and udder disorders. Putative genes will be valuable resources for designing better breeding strategies to optimize the content of milk protein and also to provide new insights into regulation of lactogenesis.
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