Lameness is a very important disorder of periparturient dairy cows with implications on milk production and composition as well as with consequences on reproductive performance. The aetiology of lameness is not clear although there have been various hypotheses suggested over the years. The objective of this study was to metabotype the urine of dairy cows prior to, during and after the onset of lameness by evaluating at weeks -8, -4 pre-calving, the week of lameness diagnosis, and +4 and +8 weeks post-calving. We used a metabolomics approach to analyse urine samples collected from dairy cows around calving (6 cows with lameness v. 20 healthy control cows). A total of 153 metabolites were identified and quantified using an in-house MS library and classified into 6 groups including: 11 amino acids (AAs), 39 acylcarnitines (ACs), 3 biogenic amines (BAs), 84 glycerophospholipids, 15 sphingolipids and hexose. A total of 23, 36, 40, 23 and 49 metabolites were observed to be significantly different between the lame and healthy cows at -8 and -4 weeks pre-calving, week of lameness diagnosis as well as at +4 and +8 weeks post-calving, respectively. It should be noted that most of the identified metabolites were elevated; however, a few of them were also lower in lame cows. Overall, ACs and glycerophospholipids, specifically phosphatidylcholines (PCs), were the metabolite groups displaying the strongest differences in the urine of pre-lame and lame cows. Lysophosphatidylcholines (LysoPCs), although to a lesser extent than PCs, were altered at all time points. Alterations in urinary AA concentrations were also observed during the current study for four time points. During the pre-calving period, there was an observed elevation of arginine (-8 week), tyrosine (-8 week) and aspartate (-4 week), as well as a depression of urinary glutamate (-4 weeks). In the current study, it was additionally observed that concentrations of several sphingomyelins and one BA were altered in pre-lame and lame cows. Symmetric dimethylarginine was elevated at both -8 weeks pre-calving and the week of lameness diagnosis. Data showed that urinary fingerprinting might be a reliable methodology to be used in the future to differentiate lame cows from healthy ones.
Keywords: biomarkers; lameness; metabolomics; transition dairy cows; urine.