Lactation-related metabolic mechanism investigated based on mammary gland metabolomics and 4 biofluids' metabolomics relationships in dairy cows

BMC Genomics. 2017 Dec 2;18(1):936. doi: 10.1186/s12864-017-4314-1.


Background: Lactation is extremely important for dairy cows; however, the understanding of the underlying metabolic mechanisms is very limited. This study was conducted to investigate the inherent metabolic patterns during lactation using the overall biofluid metabolomics and the metabolic differences from non-lactation periods, as determined using partial tissue-metabolomics. We analyzed the metabolomic profiles of four biofluids (rumen fluid, serum, milk and urine) and their relationships in six mid-lactation Holstein cows and compared their mammary gland (MG) metabolomic profiles with those of six non-lactating cows by using gas chromatography-time of flight/mass spectrometry.

Results: In total, 33 metabolites were shared among the four biofluids, and 274 metabolites were identified in the MG tissues. The sub-clusters of the hierarchical clustering analysis revealed that the rumen fluid and serum metabolomics profiles were grouped together and highly correlated but were separate from those for milk. Urine had the most different profile compared to the other three biofluids. Creatine was identified as the most different metabolite among the four biofluids (VIP = 1.537). Five metabolic pathways, including gluconeogenesis, pyruvate metabolism, the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA cycle), glycerolipid metabolism, and aspartate metabolism, showed the most functional enrichment among the four biofluids (false discovery rate < 0.05, fold enrichment >2). Clear discriminations were observed in the MG metabolomics profiles between the lactating and non-lactating cows, with 54 metabolites having a significantly higher abundance (P < 0.05, VIP > 1) in the lactation group. Lactobionic acid, citric acid, orotic acid and oxamide were extracted by the S-plot as potential biomarkers of the metabolic difference between lactation and non-lactation. The TCA cycle, glyoxylate and dicarboxylate metabolism, glutamate metabolism and glycine metabolism were determined to be pathways that were significantly impacted (P < 0.01, impact value >0.1) in the lactation group. Among them, the TCA cycle was the most up-regulated pathway (P < 0.0001), with 7 of the 10 related metabolites increased in the MG tissues of the lactating cows.

Conclusions: The overall biofluid and MG tissue metabolic mechanisms in the lactating cows were interpreted in this study. Our findings are the first to provide an integrated insight and a better understanding of the metabolic mechanism of lactation, which is beneficial for developing regulated strategies to improve the metabolic status of lactating dairy cows.

Keywords: Biofluids relationship; Dairy cow; Lactation; Mammary gland; Metabolic function; Metabolomics.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cattle / blood
  • Cattle / metabolism*
  • Cattle / urine
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Gastric Juice / chemistry
  • Gastric Juice / metabolism
  • Lactation / blood
  • Lactation / metabolism*
  • Lactation / urine
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism*
  • Metabolomics*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers