Gluconeogenesis in dairy cows: the secret of making sweet milk from sour dough

IUBMB Life. 2010 Dec;62(12):869-77. doi: 10.1002/iub.400.


Gluconeogenesis is a crucial process to support glucose homeostasis when nutritional supply with glucose is insufficient. Because ingested carbohydrates are efficiently fermented to short-chain fatty acids in the rumen, ruminants are required to meet the largest part of their glucose demand by de novo genesis after weaning. The qualitative difference to nonruminant species is that propionate originating from ruminal metabolism is the major substrate for gluconeogenesis. Disposal of propionate into gluconeogenesis via propionyl-CoA carboxylase, methylmalonyl-CoA mutase, and the cytosolic form of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) has a high metabolic priority and continues even if glucose is exogenously supplied. Gluconeogenesis is regulated at the transcriptional and several posttranscriptional levels and is under hormonal control (primarily insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone). Transcriptional regulation is relevant for regulating precursor entry into gluconeogenesis (propionate, alanine and other amino acids, lactate, and glycerol). Promoters of the bovine pyruvate carboxylase (PC) and PEPCK genes are directly controlled by metabolic products. The final steps decisive for glucose release (fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase and glucose 6-phosphatase) appear to be highly dependent on posttranscriptional regulation according to actual glucose status. Glucogenic precursor entry, together with hepatic glycogen dynamics, is mostly sufficient to meet the needs for hepatic glucose output except in high-producing dairy cows during the transition from the dry period to peak lactation. Lactating cows adapt to the increased glucose requirement for lactose production by mobilization of endogenous glucogenic substrates and increased hepatic PC expression. If these adaptations fail, lipid metabolism may be altered leading to fatty liver and ketosis. Increasing feed intake and provision of glucogenic precursors from the diet are important to ameliorate these disturbances. An improved understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying gluconeogenesis may further improve our options to enhance the postpartum health status of dairy cows.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gluconeogenesis* / genetics
  • Glucose* / genetics
  • Glucose* / metabolism
  • Glycogen / genetics
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Hormones / genetics
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ketosis / metabolism
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Decarboxylase / metabolism
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Mutase / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Milk* / metabolism
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (GTP) / genetics
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (GTP) / metabolism
  • Propionates* / metabolism
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase / genetics
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase / metabolism
  • Rats


  • Amino Acids
  • Hormones
  • Propionates
  • Lactic Acid
  • Glycogen
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (GTP)
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Mutase
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Decarboxylase
  • Glucose
  • propionic acid