WSU ag animal faculty research updates, summer 2023

Differential gene expression in peripheral leukocytes of pre-weaned Holstein heifer calves with respiratory disease

Lily A Elder, Holly R Hinnant, Chris M Mandella, Rachel A Claus-Walker, Lindsay M Parrish, Giovana S Slanzon, Craig S McConnel


Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is a leading cause of calf morbidity and mortality, and prevalence remains high despite current management practices. Differential gene expression (DGE) provides detailed insight into individual immune responses and can illuminate enriched pathways and biomarkers that contribute to disease susceptibility and outcomes. The aims of this study were to investigate differences in peripheral leukocyte gene expression in Holstein preweaned heifer calves 1) with and without BRD, and 2) across weeks of age. Calves were enrolled for this short-term longitudinal study on two commercial dairies in Washington State. Calves were assessed every two weeks throughout the pre-weaning period using clinical respiratory scoring (CRS) and thoracic ultrasonography (TUS), and blood samples were collected. Calves were selected that were either healthy (n = 10) or had BRD diagnosed by CRS (n = 7), TUS (n = 6), or both (n = 6) in weeks 5 or 7 of life). Three consecutive time point samples were analyzed for each BRD calf consisting of PRE, ONSET, and POST samples. Nineteen genes of interest were selected based on previous gene expression studies in cattle: ALOX15, BPI, CATHL6, CXCL8, DHX58, GZMB, HPGD, IFNG, IL17D, IL1R2, ISG15, LCN2, LIF, MX1, OAS2, PGLYRP1, S100A8, SELP, and TNF. Comparisons were made between age and disease time point matched BRD and healthy calves as well as between calf weeks of age. No DGE was observed between diseased and healthy calves; however, DGE was observed between calf weeks of age regardless of disease state. Developmental differences in leukocyte gene expression, phenotype, and functionality make pre-weaned calves immunologically distinct from mature cattle, and early life shifts in calf leukocyte populations likely contribute to the age-related gene expression differences we observed. Age overshadows disease impacts to influence gene expression in young calves, and immune development progresses upon a common trajectory regardless of disease during the preweaning period.