Periparturient stress and immune suppression as a potential cause of retained placenta in highly productive dairy cows: Examples of prevention

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The immune system during the periparturient period is impaired. At this time the most important factor causing immune-suppression in highly productive cows is metabolic stress resulting from hormonal and metabolic fluctuations, a negative energy balance, shortage of proteins, minerals and vitamins which are required to meet the demands of the fetus as well as the onset of lactation. This stress can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA), which results in increase plasma corticosteroids. As a result, the cortisol concentration during the periparturient period increases by several folds particularly on the day of calving. Cortisol is a powerful immune-suppressive agent. During stress, this hormone causes depression of the leukocyte proliferation and their functions. Decreased phagocytosis of neutrophils, decreased cytotoxic ability of lymphocytes, as well as depressed activity of their cytokines, make it impossible for the normal, efficient maternal immune recognition and rejection of fetal membranes (as a foreign, allogeneic tissue expressed fetal antigens-MHC class I proteins by trophoblast cells) and finally results in their retention in cows. The metabolic periparturient stress also activates production of catecholamines, especially adrenalin. Adrenalin activates adrenoreceptors of the myometrium and then causes hypotony or atony of the uterus. Thus, cortisol and adrenalin inhibit rejection and expulsion of fetal membranes and cause their retention. These mechanisms of retained placenta (RP) often have a metabolic etiology and occur in herds, where important infectious diseases causing placentitis are absent or prevented. The aim of this article is to show the fundamental mechanisms occurring during periparturient stress and the accompanied immune-suppression in cows, as well as their consequences in relation to RP. The paper also gives examples of the symptomatic prevention of RP in cows caused by metabolic and immune suppressive factors. The prevention of RP was carried out using drugs which inhibit the activity of cortisol or adrenalin in dairy cows during calving.




Mordak, R., & Anthony, S. P. (2015). Periparturient stress and immune suppression as a potential cause of retained placenta in highly productive dairy cows: Examples of prevention. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 57(1).

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