Role of neutrophils in protection of udder from infection in high yielding dairy cows

Document Type : Review article


1 Department of Pathobiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran and Institute of Biotechnology, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran

2 Department of Comparative Physiology and Biometrics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium


Protection of the mammary gland against mastitis-causing pathogens is mediated by many factors in the
gland and blood circulation. The professional phagocytic cells of bovine udder, polymorphonuclear
neutrophils (PMN) and macrophages, comprise the first line of defense against invading mastitis pathogens.
Most researchers now accept that the PMN is a key factor in the cows’ defense against intramammary
infections. The PMN are the only leukocytes in the milk compartment that are capable of producing large
amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) to kill phagocytosed bacteria. In this review, the role of PMN
function as an effective defense against intramammary pathogens in dairy cows and physiopathological
influencing factors on blood and milk PMN functions are discussed. Apart from playing a crucial role in the
first line of defense mechanism, the PMN can also, indirectly, interfere with the complex interactions of
second line of defense against pathogens. To minimize mammary tissue damage caused by bacterial toxins
and oxidative products released by PMN, elimination of invading bacteria should proceed quickly. This can
provide balance among inflammation reactions, bactericidal activity and tissue damage. The good balance
between host-pathogen interactions might be affected by the physiological (e.g., stage and number of
lactation) and pathological (e.g., local-systemic effect of mastitis) status of dairy cows. Hormones,
metabolites and acute phase proteins also influence PMN functions, thereby affecting the outcome of
mastitis. This is especially the case around parturition. PMN function in healthy cows after parturition is
highly heritable and has been related to the cow’s susceptibility to clinical mastitis. Despite advances in
veterinary science, nutrition and molecular biology, mastitis is still a very big problem in high yielding dairy
cows. The long-term and fundamental solution for mastitis affecting high yielding dairy cows is to strengthen
cows’ immune systems by means of attainable physio-immunological approaches. This requires a
comprehensive study on the immunophysiological alterations throughout lactation and during mastitis. This
review focuses on some factors affecting PMN functions during the lactation cycle and mastitis in high
yielding dairy cows.