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In depth analysis of genes and pathways of the mammary gland involved in the pathogenesis of bovine Escherichia coli-mastitis

Bart Buitenhuis1*, Christine M Røntved2, Stefan M Edwards1, Klaus L Ingvartsen2 and Peter Sørensen1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, Blichers allé 20, P.O. Box 50, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark

2 Department of Animal Health and Bioscience, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, Blichers allé 20, P.O. Box 50, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:130  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-130

Published: 28 February 2011



Bovine mastitis is one of the most costly and prevalent diseases affecting dairy cows worldwide. In order to develop new strategies to prevent Escherichia coli-induced mastitis, a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the host immune response to an E. coli infection is necessary. To this end, we performed a global gene-expression analysis of mammary gland tissue collected from dairy cows that had been exposed to a controlled E. coli infection. Biopsy samples of healthy and infected utter tissue were collected at T = 24 h post-infection (p.i.) and at T = 192 h p.i. to represent the acute phase response (APR) and chronic stage, respectively. Differentially expressed (DE) genes for each stage were analyzed and the DE genes detected at T = 24 h were also compared to data collected from two previous E. coli mastitis studies that were carried out on post mortem tissue.


Nine-hundred-eighty-two transcripts were found to be differentially expressed in infected tissue at T = 24 (P < 0.05). Up-regulated transcripts (699) were largely associated with immune response functions, while the down-regulated transcripts (229) were principally involved in fat metabolism. At T = 192 h, all of the up-regulated transcripts were associated with tissue healing processes. Comparison of T = 24 h DE genes detected in the three E. coli mastitis studies revealed 248 were common and mainly involved immune response functions. KEGG pathway analysis indicated that these genes were involved in 12 pathways related to the pro-inflammatory response and APR, but also identified significant representation of two unexpected pathways: natural killer cell-mediated cytotoxicity pathway (KEGG04650) and the Rig-I-like receptor signalling pathway (KEGG04622).


In E. coli-induced mastitis, infected mammary gland tissue was found to significantly up-regulate expression of genes related to the immune response and down-regulate genes related to fat metabolism. Up to 25% of the DE immune response genes common to the three E. coli mastitis studies at T = 24 h were independent of E. coli strain and dose, cow lactation stage and number, tissue collection method and gene analysis method used. Hence, these DE genes likely represent important mediators of the local APR against E. coli in the mammary gland.