Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version



PLoS One (August 2014) 9(8): e103412. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103412.


Copyright 2014, the authors. Open access, Creative Commons Attribution license.


Milk and dairy products are an important source of choline, a nutrient essential for human health. Infant formula derived from bovine milk contains a number of metabolic forms of choline, all contribute to the growth and development of the newborn. At present, little is known about the factors that influence the concentrations of choline metabolites in milk. The objectives of this study were to characterize and then evaluate associations for choline and its metabolites in blood and milk through the first 37 weeks of lactation in the dairy cow. Milk and blood samples from twelve Holstein cows were collected in early, mid and late lactation and analyzed for acetylcholine, free choline, betaine, glycerophosphocholine, lysophosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylcholine, phosphocholine and sphingomyelin using hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and quantified using stable isotope-labeled internal standards. Total choline concentration in plasma, which was almost entirely phosphatidylcholine, increased 10-times from early to late lactation (1305 to 13,535 µmol/L). In milk, phosphocholine was the main metabolite in early lactation (492 µmol/L), which is a similar concentration to that found in human milk, however, phosphocholine concentration decreased exponentially through lactation to 43 µmol/L in late lactation. In contrast, phosphatidylcholine was the main metabolite in mid and late lactation (188 µmol/L and 659 µmol/L, respectively), with the increase through lactation positively correlated with phosphatidylcholine in plasma (R2 = 0.78). Unlike previously reported with human milk we found no correlation between plasma free choline concentration and milk choline metabolites. The changes in pattern of phosphocholine and phosphatidylcholine in milk through lactation observed in the bovine suggests that it is possible to manufacture infant formula that more closely matches these metabolites profile in human milk.