Graduate Student Literature Review: Exploring choline's important roles as a nutrient for transition dairy cows

J Dairy Sci. 2024 Jul;107(7):4357-4369. doi: 10.3168/jds.2023-24050. Epub 2024 Mar 22.


In late gestation and in the first weeks postpartum, lipid droplets accumulate in the hepatic tissue resulting in approximately 40% to 50% of the dairy cows developing hepatic lipidosis in the first weeks of lactation. Elevated concentrations of triacylglycerol in the hepatic tissue are associated with increased risk of peripartum diseases and impaired productive performance. Cows with hepatic lipidosis need to dispose the excess of hepatic triacylglycerol, but this is a slow process in the bovine liver and relies on primary mechanisms such as complete oxidation and ketogenesis because of the limited export of triacylglycerols as lipoproteins. Choline is a lipotropic compound because, among other functions, it facilitates the export of lipids from the liver. Supplementing choline as rumen-protected choline (RPC) to diets of feed-restricted dairy cows reduces the degree of triacylglycerol infiltration into the hepatic parenchyma in part by enhancing export of triacylglycerol as nascent lipoprotein. The reduced accumulation of triacylglycerol in hepatic tissue in feed-restricted cows fed RPC might affect secondary pathways involved in hepatic disposal of fatty acids such as increased cellular autophagy and lipophagy and minimize endoplasmic reticulum stress response and hepatocyte inflammation. Collectively, these effects on secondary pathways might further reduce the severity of hepatic lipidosis in cows. One of the benefits of supplementing RPC is improved fat digestibility, perhaps because choline, through phosphatidylcholines, facilitates lipid transport within the enterocyte by increasing the synthesis of chylomicrons. Finally, when supplemented during the transition period, RPC improves productive performance of cows, irrespective of their body condition, that extends well beyond the period of supplementation. This review summarizes the current understanding of hepatic lipidosis in early lactation, recapitulates the absorption, transport and metabolism of choline, and discusses its role on hepatic metabolism and gastrointestinal functions, which collectively results in improved performance in dairy cows.

Keywords: choline; fatty liver; milk yield; transition cow.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Choline* / metabolism
  • Diet* / veterinary
  • Female
  • Lactation*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Nutrients / metabolism
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Choline
  • Triglycerides