Hepatic effects of rumen-protected branched-chain amino acids with or without propylene glycol supplementation in dairy cows during early lactation

J Dairy Sci. 2021 Sep;104(9):10324-10337. doi: 10.3168/jds.2021-20265. Epub 2021 Jun 25.


Essential amino acids (EAA) are critical for multiple physiological processes. Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation provides energy substrates, promotes protein synthesis, and stimulates insulin secretion in rodents and humans. Most dairy cows face a protein and energy deficit during the first weeks postpartum and utilize body reserves to counteract this shortage. The objective was to evaluate the effect of rumen-protected BCAA (RP-BCAA; 375 g of 27% l-leucine, 85 g of 48% l-isoleucine, and 91 g of 67% l-valine) with or without oral propylene glycol (PG) administration on markers of liver health status, concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA) and β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in plasma, and liver triglycerides (TG) during the early postpartum period in dairy cows. Multiparous Holstein cows were enrolled in blocks of 3 and randomly assigned to either the control group or 1 of the 2 treatments from calving until 35 d postpartum. The control group (n = 16) received 200 g of dry molasses per cow/d; the RP-BCAA group (n = 14) received RP-BCAA mixed with 200 g of dry molasses per cow/d; the RP-BCAA plus PG (RP-BCAAPG) group (n = 16) received RP-BCAA mixed with 200 g of dry molasses per cow/d, plus 300 mL of PG, once daily from calving until 7 d in milk (DIM). The RP-BCAA and RP-BCAAGP groups, on average (± standard deviation), were predicted to receive a greater supply of metabolizable protein in the form of l-Leu 27.4 ± 3.5 g/d, l-Ile 15.2 ± 1.8 g/d, and l-Val 24.2 ± 2.4 g/d compared with the control cows. Liver biopsies were collected at d 9 ± 4 prepartum and at 5 ± 1 and 21 ± 1 DIM. Blood was sampled 3 times per week from calving until 21 DIM. Milk yield, dry matter intake, NEFA, BHB, EAA blood concentration, serum chemistry, insulin, glucagon, and liver TG and protein abundance of total and phosphorylated branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase E1α (p-BCKDH-E1α) were analyzed using repeated measures ANOVA. Cows in the RP-BCAA and RP-BCAAPG groups had lower liver TG and lower activities of aspartate aminotransferase and glutamate dehydrogenase during the first 21 DIM, compared with control. All cows, regardless of treatment, showed an upregulation of p-BCKDH-E1α at d 5 postpartum, compared with levels at 21 d postpartum. Insulin, Met, and Glu blood concentration were greater in RP-BCAA and RP-BCAAPG compared with control during the first 35 DIM. Therefore, the use of RP-BCAA in combination with PG might be a feasible option to reduce hepatic lipidosis in dairy cows during early lactation.

Keywords: branched-chain amino acid; hepatic lipidosis; liver; transition cows.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial, Veterinary

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain*
  • Animals
  • Cattle*
  • Diet* / veterinary
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Lactation
  • Liver
  • Milk
  • Postpartum Period
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Rumen*


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Propylene Glycol