Association of plasma miRNAs with early life performance and aging in dairy cattle

Madison MacLeay, G Banos, F. Xavier Donadeu*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Early life performance traits in dairy cattle can have important influences on lifetime productivity. Poor health and fertility are of great economical and animal welfare concern. Circulating miRNAs have been linked to several livestock traits, including resistance to infection, fertility, and muscle development. This study aimed to identify circulating miRNAs associated with early life performance traits and aging in dairy cattle. Plasma samples from female calves (n=12) identified retrospectively as differing in health, growth, and fertility outcomes prior to first calving were analyzed using PCR arrays detecting 378 miRNAs. Levels of 6 miRNAs differed significantly in calves with poor growth/fertility relative to controls (t-test: P<0.05). Additionally, general(ized) (non)linear mixed models identified 1 miRNA associated with average daily gain until weaning, 22 with live bodyweight at one year of age, 47 with age at first service, and 19 with number of infections before first calving. Out of 85 distinct miRNAs that were associated with at least one animal trait, 9 miRNAs were validated by RT-qPCR in a larger cohort (n=91 animals), which included longitudinal plasma samples (calf, heifer, first lactation cow). Significant associations (P<0.05) involving individual miRNAs or ratios between miRNAs and early-life performance traits were identified, but did not retain significance after multiple testing adjustment. However, levels of 8 plasma miRNAs (miR-126-3p, miR-127, miR-142-5p, miR-154b, miR-27b, miR-30c-5p, miR-34a, miR-363) changed significantly with age, most prominently during the calf-to-heifer transition. Comparative RT-qPCR analyses of these miRNAs across 19 calf tissues showed that most were ubiquitously expressed. Online database mining identified several pathways involved in metabolism and cell signaling as putative biological targets of these miRNAs. These results suggest that miR-126-3p, miR-127, miR-142-5p, miR-154b, miR-27b, miR-30c-5p, miR-34a, miR-363 are involved in regulating growth and development from birth to first lactation (~2 years old) and could provide useful biomarkers of aging in cattle.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0288343
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Early online date10 Jul 2023
Publication statusFirst published - 10 Jul 2023


  • dairy cattle
  • miRNA
  • Aging/genetics
  • early life performance
  • Fertility
  • growth
  • health
  • Biomarkers
  • MicroRNAs/genetics
  • Circulating MicroRNA/genetics
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Female
  • Retrospective Studies


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