Cholesterol metabolism, transport, and hepatic regulation in dairy cows during transition and early lactation

J Dairy Sci. 2014 Sep;97(9):5481-90. doi: 10.3168/jds.2014-7926. Epub 2014 Jun 18.


The transition from the nonlactating to the lactating state represents a critical period for dairy cow lipid metabolism because body reserves have to be mobilized to meet the increasing energy requirements for the initiation of milk production. The purpose of this study was to provide a comprehensive overview on cholesterol homeostasis in transition dairy cows by assessing in parallel plasma, milk, and hepatic tissue for key factors of cholesterol metabolism, transport, and regulation. Blood samples and liver biopsies were taken from 50 multiparous Holstein dairy cows in wk 3 antepartum (a.p.), wk 1 postpartum (p.p.), wk 4 p.p., and wk 14 p.p. Milk sampling was performed in wk 1, 4, and 14 p.p. Blood and milk lipid concentrations [triglycerides (TG), cholesterol, and lipoproteins], enzyme activities (phospholipid transfer protein and lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase) were analyzed using enzymatic assays. Hepatic gene expression patterns of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMGC) synthase 1 (HMGCS1) and HMGC reductase (HMGCR), sterol regulatory element-binding factor (SREBF)-1 and -2, microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTTP), ATP-binding cassette transporter (ABC) A1 and ABCG1, liver X receptor (LXR) α and peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR) α and γ were measured using quantitative RT-PCR. Plasma TG, cholesterol, and lipoprotein concentrations decreased from wk 3 a.p. to a minimum in wk 1 p.p., and then gradually increased until wk 14 p.p. Compared with wk 4 p.p., phospholipid transfer protein activity was increased in wk 1 p.p., whereas lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase activity was lowest at this period. Total cholesterol concentration and mass, and cholesterol concentration in the milk fat fraction decreased from wk 1 p.p. to wk 4 p.p. Both total and milk fat cholesterol concentration were decreased in wk 4 p.p. compared with wk 1 and 14 p.p. The mRNA abundance of genes involved in cholesterol synthesis (SREBF-2, HMGCS1, and HMGCR) markedly increased from wk 3 a.p. to wk 1 p.p., whereas SREBF-1 was downregulated. The expression of ABCA1 increased from wk 3 a.p. to wk 1 p.p., whereas ABCG1 was increased in wk 14 p.p. compared with other time points. In conclusion, hepatic expression of genes involved in the biosynthesis of cholesterol as well as the ABCA1 transporter were upregulated at the onset of lactation, whereas plasma concentrations of total cholesterol, phospholipids, lipoprotein-cholesterol, and TG were at a minimum. Thus, at the gene expression level, the liver seems to react to the increased demand for cholesterol after parturition. Whether the low plasma cholesterol and TG levels are due to impaired hepatic export mechanisms or reflect an enhanced transfer of these compounds into the milk to provide essential nutrients for the newborn remains to be elucidated.

Keywords: cholesterol metabolism; dairy cow; lipoprotein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Cholesterol Esters / blood
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, VLDL / blood
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Homeostasis
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Synthase / genetics
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Synthase / metabolism
  • Lactation*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • PPAR alpha / genetics
  • PPAR alpha / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylcholine-Sterol O-Acyltransferase / blood
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins / blood
  • Postpartum Period / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1 / genetics
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cholesterol Esters
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Cholesterol, VLDL
  • PPAR alpha
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1
  • Triglycerides
  • microsomal triglyceride transfer protein
  • Phosphatidylcholine-Sterol O-Acyltransferase
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Synthase