The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the metabolic stresses associated with lactation alter the ability of the endometrium to respond appropriately to the conceptus by examining endometrial gene expression on day 19 of pregnancy. Immediately after calving, primiparous Holstein cows with similar production and fertility estimated breeding values were randomly divided into two groups and either dried off (i.e. never milked) immediately or milked twice daily. Approximately 65–75 days postpartum, grade 1 blastocysts recovered from superovulated Holstein heifer donors (n = 5) were transferred (1 per recipient) into lactating (n = 11) and nonlactating (n = 11) recipients. Control nulliparous Holstein heifers (n = 6) were artificially inseminated. RNAsequencing was performed on intercaruncular endometrial samples recovered at slaughter from confirmed pregnant animals on day 19 (n = 5 lactating and nonlactating cows; n = 4 heifers). Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified between both postpartum groups compared to heifers and between lactating and nonlactating cows. Functional annotation of DEGs between cows and heifers revealed over-representation of categories, including endosome, cytoplasmic vesicle, endocytosis, regulation of exocytosis, and cytokine receptor activity. Functional categories including transcription factor binding sites, cell motility, and cell migration were enriched for DEGs between endometria from lactating and nonlactating cows. In conclusion, while the evidence for a major effect of lactation on the endometrial transcriptome is relatively weak, these data suggest that the metabolic status of the animal (heifer vs cow) modulates the response of the endometrium to the developing conceptus.
The endometrial response to a high quality embryo following transfer is minimal in lactating dairy rows compared to non-lactating cows but differs in its response to a conceptus in lactating cows compared to heifers.