Morphology, adipocyte size, and fatty acid analysis of dairy cattle digital cushions, and the effect of body condition score and age

R F Newsome, A Mostyn, J P Wilson, A Alibhai, N Bollard, L Randall, M G G Chagunda, C J Sturrock, M Keane, M Green, J N Huxley, C S Rutland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


The digital cushion is an essential part of maintaining a healthy foot, working to dissipate foot strike and body weight forces and lameness from claw horn disruption lesions. Despite the importance of the digital cushion, little is known about the basic anatomy, adipocyte morphology, and fatty acid composition in relation to age, limb position, and body condition score. In total, 60 claws (from 17 cows) were selected and collected from a herd, ensuring that body condition score data and computed micro-tomography were known for each animal. Digital cushion tissue underwent histological staining combined with stereology, systematic random sampling, and cell morphology analysis, in addition to lipid extraction followed by fatty acid analysis. The results describe digital cushion architecture and adipocyte sizes. Adipocyte size was similar across all 4 claws (distal left lateral and medial and distal right lateral and medial) and across the ages (aged 2-7 yr); however, animals with body condition score of 3.00 or more at slaughter had a significantly increased cell size in comparison to those with a score of less than 2.50. Of 37 fatty acid methyl esters identified, 5 differed between either the body condition score or different age groups. C10:0 capric acid, C14:0 myristic acid, C15:0 pentadecanoic acid, and C20:0 arachidic acid percentages were all lesser in lower body condition score cows, whereas C22:1n-9 erucic acid measurements were lesser in younger cows. Saturated fatty acid, monounsaturated fatty acid, and polyunsaturated fatty acid percentages were not altered in the different claws, ages, or body condition score groups. Triglyceride quantities did not differ for claw position or age but had decreased quantities in lower body condition score animals. Digital cushion anatomy, cellular morphology, and fatty acid composition have been described in general and also in animals with differing ages, body condition scores, and in the differing claws. Understanding fat deposition, mobilization, and composition are essential in not only understanding the roles that the digital cushion plays but also in preventing disorders and maintaining cattle health and welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6238-6252
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number5
Early online date5 Mar 2021
Publication statusPrint publication - May 2021


  • adipocyte
  • body condition score
  • bovine lameness
  • digital cushion
  • fatty acid


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