Effect of dietary phosphorus deprivation on leukocyte function in transition cows
Phosphorus depletion and hypophosphatemia have been described to hamper immune function in different species, an effect barely studied in dairy cows commonly developing hypophosphatemia in early lactation. Dietary P deprivation in mid lactating dairy cows was associated with a decline of the number of granulocytes and impaired granulocyte survival, whereas the phagocytic activity remained unaffected. The objective of the study reported here was to determine the effect of P deprivation on the leukocyte function of periparturient dairy cows. Eighteen multiparous and late pregnant dairy cows were randomly assigned to either a treatment group that was offered a markedly P-deficient diet or a control group receiving the same ration with adequate P content. The study consisted of a 2-wk acclimation period that was followed by a P deprivation period extending from 4 wk before to 4 wk after parturition and a P repletion period of 2 wk thereafter. Blood samples for leukocyte counts and leukocyte function analysis were obtained at the end of the acclimation period, after 2 wk of P deprivation, within the first week of lactation, at the end of the P depletion period and after 2 wk of dietary P supplementation. Blood samples for biochemical analysis were obtained weekly. Immune function was assessed by means of a phagocytosis assay and a lymphocyte stimulation test. Dietary P deprivation resulted in pronounced and sustained hypophosphatemia. Time effects were observed on the counts of different leukocyte fractions, the relative number of phagocytic granulocytes, the degree of phagocytosis, and the lymphocyte proliferation. Differences between P-deprived and control cows were only identified for the degree of phagocytosis that was lower in P-deprived cows compared with control cows. The correlation and regression analyses, however, revealed positive associations of the plasma phosphate concentration and the granulocyte count, the relative number of phagocytic granulocytes, and the degree of phagocytosis at the end of the dietary P deprivation when P depletion was most severe. The results of the study reported here indicate a mild negative effect of pronounced and sustained hypophosphatemia on the granulocyte count and the phagocytic activity of granulocytes in transition dairy cows. The clinical relevance of this effect for health and productivity of dairy cows remains to be determined.