Dairy cow subfertility is a worldwide issue arising from multiple factors. It manifests in >30% early pregnancy losses in seasonal pasture-grazed herds, especially when cows are inseminated in the early post-partum period. Most losses occur before implantation, when embryo growth depends on factors present in maternal tract fluids. Here we examined the proteomic composition of early and mid-postpartum uterine luminal fluid (ULF) in crossbred lactating dairy cows to identify molecular determinants of fertility. We also explored changes in ULF from first to third estrus cycles postpartum in individual cows, linking those changes with divergent embryo development. For this, we flushed uteri of 87 cows at Day 7 of pregnancy at first and third estrus postpartum, recovering, and grading their embryos. Out of 1563 proteins detected, 472 had not been previously reported in this fluid, and 408 were predicted to be actively secreted by bioinformatic analysis. The abundance of 18 proteins with roles in immune regulation and metabolic function (e.g. cystatin B, pyruvate kinase M2) was associated with contrasting embryo quality. Matched-paired pathway analysis indicated that, from first to third estrus postpartum, upregulation of metabolic (e.g. creatine and carbohydrate) and immune (e.g. complement regulation, antiviral defense) processes were related to poorer quality embryos in the third estrus cycle postpartum. Conversely, upregulated signal transduction and protein trafficking appeared related to improved embryo quality in third estrus. These results advance the characterization of the molecular environment of bovine ULF and may aid understanding fertility issues in other mammals, including humans.
Bovine early embryo quality appears governed by differential abundance of specific proteins and by postpartum dysregulation of both metabolic and immune pathways in uterine fluid.