• Characterisation of the Whole Blood mRNA Transcriptome in Holstein-Friesian and Jersey Calves in Response to Gradual Weaning

      Johnston, Dayle; Earley, Bernadette; Cormican, Paul; Kenny, David A.; McCabe, Matthew; Kelly, Alan K; McGee, Mark; Waters, Sinead M.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; European Union; et al. (PLOS, 2016-08-01)
      Weaning of dairy calves is an early life husbandry management practice which involves the changeover from a liquid to a solid feed based diet. The objectives of the study were to use RNA-seq technology to examine the effect of (i) breed and (ii) gradual weaning, on the whole blood mRNA transcriptome of artificially reared Holstein-Friesian and Jersey calves. The calves were gradually weaned over 14 days (day (d) -13 to d 0) and mRNA transcription was examined one day before gradual weaning was initiated (d -14), one day after weaning (d 1), and 8 days after weaning (d 8). On d -14, 550 genes were differentially expressed between Holstein-Friesian and Jersey calves, while there were 490 differentially expressed genes (DEG) identified on d 1, and 411 DEG detected eight days after weaning (P < 0.05; FDR < 0.1). No genes were differentially expressed within breed, in response to gradual weaning (P > 0.05). The pathways, gene ontology terms, and biological functions consistently over-represented among the DEG between Holstein-Friesian and Jersey were associated with the immune response and immune cell signalling, specifically chemotaxis. Decreased transcription of several cytokines, chemokines, immunoglobulin-like genes, phagocytosis-promoting receptors and g-protein coupled receptors suggests decreased monocyte, natural killer cell, and T lymphocyte, chemotaxis and activation in Jersey compared to Holstein-Friesian calves. Knowledge of breed-specific immune responses could facilitate health management practices better tailored towards specific disease sensitivities of Holstein-Friesian and Jersey calves. Gradual weaning did not compromise the welfare of artificially-reared dairy calves, evidenced by the lack of alterations in the expression of any genes in response to gradual weaning.