BACKGROUND: Low fertility remains a leading cause of poor productivity in dairy cattle. In this context, there is significant interest in developing novel tools for accurate early diagnosis of pregnancy. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short RNA molecules which are critically involved in regulating gene expression during both health and disease. MiRNAs have been shown to regulate ovarian function, uterine receptivity, embryonic development and placental function. Circulating miRNAs can provide useful biomarkers of tissue function and disease; importantly, differential miRNA profiles have been linked to pregnancy and preeclampsia in humans. This study sought to establish the potential of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of early pregnancy in cattle.
RESULTS: We applied Illumina small-RNA sequencing to profile miRNAs in plasma samples collected from eight non-pregnant heifers on Days 0, 8 and 16 of the oestrous cycle and 11 heifers on Days 16 and 24 of pregnancy. We sequenced a total of 46 samples and generated 9.2 million miRNA reads per sample. There were no differences in miRNA read abundance between any of the pregnant and non-pregnant time-points (FDR > 0.1). As a complementary approach, we analysed sample pools (3-4 samples/pool) corresponding to Days 0, 8 and 16 of the oestrous cycle and Day 24 of pregnancy (n = 3 pools/group) using Qiagen PCR arrays. A total of 16 miRNAs were differentially expressed (FDR < 0.1) in plasma between pregnant and non-pregnant animals. RT-qPCR validation using the same plasma samples confirmed that miR-26a was differentially upregulated on Day 16 pregnant relative to non-pregnant heifers (1.7-fold; P = 0.043), whereas miR-1249 tended to be upregulated in Day 16 pregnant heifers (1.6-fold; P = 0.081). Further validation in an independent group of heifers confirmed an increase in plasma miR-26a levels during early pregnancy, which was significant only on Day 24 (2.0-fold; P = 0.027).
CONCLUSIONS: Through genome-wide analyses we have successfully profiled plasma miRNA populations associated with early pregnancy in cattle. We have identified miR-26a as a potential circulating biomarker of early pregnancy.
- High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
- Polymerase Chain Reaction
- Pregnancy Tests/methods
- Pregnancy, Animal/blood
- Sequence Analysis, RNA