The effect of the transition period and postpartum body weight loss on macrophage infiltrates in bovine subcutaneous adipose tissue

J Dairy Sci. 2019 Feb;102(2):1693-1701. doi: 10.3168/jds.2018-15362. Epub 2018 Nov 22.


The transition period in dairy cattle is characterized by a rapid increase in metabolic demands due to the onset of lactation in parallel with a voluntary drop in dry matter intake, which slowly increases compared with the rapidly increasing milk production. The resulting deficit in energy intake is largely met by lipolysis of adipose tissue stores liberating nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA) as energy substrates to support milk production and for the synthesis of milk fat. Previous work in cattle and other species has documented an increase in adipose tissue macrophages (ATM) during periods of feed restriction and lipolysis; however, alterations in ATM during the transition period have only recently received interest because of the role that adipose tissue remodeling and inflammation may play during this time. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the number of macrophages in subcutaneous adipose tissue from dairy cattle at multiple time points throughout the transition period. Secondary objectives included the evaluation for potential associations of ATM with changes in body condition score (BCS) and concentrations of circulating NEFA and β-hydroxybutyrate. Holstein cows (n = 25) were enrolled in the study 28 d before expected parturition and fed the same prepartum and postpartum rations for ad libitum consumption. On d 10 before expected parturition, and on d 4 and 21 after calving, subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies were taken from the paralumbar fossa and preserved in formalin. Paraffin-embedded sections of tissue from each of the 25 cows at the 3 time points (total of 75 samples) were labeled with an immunohistochemical marker of macrophages, ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1 (Iba1, also known as allograft inflammatory factor 1). The number of Iba1-positive cells, the number of crown-like structures, and the number of immunopositive aggregates were enumerated in each sample. The number of Iba1-positive macrophages increased by 60 and 93% on d 4 and 21, respectively, when compared with the average prepartum number. Additionally, cows that lost ≥0.50 points of BCS had a 57 and 52% higher number of ATM on d 4 and 21 postpartum, respectively, when compared with cows that lost ≤0.25 points of BCS. No association was found between ATM numbers and NEFA and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations or milk production in early lactation. Cows experiencing a more pronounced decrease in BCS postpartum had the largest increase in adipose tissue macrophage counts, suggesting that a greater degree of adipose tissue remodeling during the period of greatest nutrient deficit may be associated with higher numbers of ATM.

Keywords: allograft inflammatory factor 1; inflammation; ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1; lipolysis; negative energy balance.

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Lipolysis
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Postpartum Period / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Subcutaneous Fat / cytology*
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Weight Loss*


  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid