Changes of the erythrocyte phenotype and blood biochemistry in dairy calves during the first ten weeks of age
Background:Bovine erythrocytes undergo important changes in their morphology and chemical composition during the first weeks of age, which must be understood to accurately interpret hematology results in calves. The objectives of this prospective cohort study were to describe physiological changes of calf erythrocytes and to investigate mechanisms potentially causing these changes. Methods:Blood samples from 30 clinically healthy dairy calves were obtained from birth to the tenth week of age in weekly intervals. Hematological and plasma biochemical parameters as well as the mineral electrolyte content of erythrocytes were determined and followed over time. The changes of parameters characterizing the erythrocyte phenotype over time were compared to the changes of plasma and erythrocyte biochemical parameters and possible associations were investigated using correlation and stepwise regression analyses. Results:Although the erythrocyte mean corpuscular volume (MCV) declined from 43.6 ± 3.7 fL to 35.6 ± 3.2 fL between the first and seventh week, the red blood cell count (RBC) increased from 7.2 ± 1.1 × 1012/L to 9.3 ± 1.0 × 1012/L until the fifth week of age. The blood hemoglobin (Hb) concentration increased from 0.96 ± 0.16 g/L to 1.16 ± 0.11 g/L in the first three weeks of age and remained at this level until the end of the study. Changes in MCV were accompanied by a decline of the erythrocyte potassium content (KERY) from 91.9 ± 13.5 to 24.6 ± 7.2 mmol/L and a concomitant increase of the erythrocyte sodium content from 45.0 ± 32.0 to 102.7 ± 26.5 mmol/L. MCV was found to be associated with KERY, the primary determinant of the intra-erythrocyte osmotic pressure from the sixth week of age and with blood hemoglobin, the primary determinant of the intra-erythrocyte oncotic pressure from the eighth week of age, when KERY, blood Hb and MCV already had reached or approached normal levels of adult cattle. The plasma iron concentration was not found to be associated to any of the studied hematological parameters. Conclusion:A volume reduction of 20% in bovine neonatal erythrocytes is a physiological change occurring during the first weeks of age and is neither associated with sideropenia nor with anemia in healthy calves. The mechanism driving the observed erythrocyte volume change could not be identified. Results of the correlation and regression analyses indicate that changes in intra-erythrocyte osmotic or oncotic pressure are improbable underlying causes. Results reported here show that KERY is an unreliable indicator for the K homeostasis of the intracellular space in neonatal calves and that a decrease in MCV in early life per-se is an unreliable indicator for the development of microcytic anemia.