Longitudinal changes in telomere length and associated genetic parameters in dairy cattle analysed using random regression models

Seeker, L A and Ilska, J J and Psifidi, A and Wilbourn, R V and Underwood, S L and Fairlie, J and Holland, R and Froy, H and Bagnall, A and Whitelaw, B and Coffey, M and Nussey, D H and Banos, G (2018) Longitudinal changes in telomere length and associated genetic parameters in dairy cattle analysed using random regression models. PLoS One, 13 (2).

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Telomeres cap the ends of linear chromosomes and shorten with age in many organisms. In humans short telomeres have been linked to morbidity and mortality. With the accumulation of longitudinal datasets the focus shifts from investigating telomere length (TL) to exploring TL change within individuals over time. Some studies indicate that the speed of telomere attrition is predictive of future disease. The objectives of the present study were to 1) characterize the change in bovine relative leukocyte TL (RLTL) across the lifetime in Holstein Friesian dairy cattle, 2) estimate genetic parameters of RLTL over time and 3) investigate the association of differences in individual RLTL profiles with productive lifespan. RLTL measurements were analysed using Legendre polynomials in a random regression model to describe TL profiles and genetic variance over age. The analyses were based on 1,328 repeated RLTL measurements of 308 female Holstein Friesian dairy cattle. A quadratic Legendre polynomial was fitted to the fixed effect of age in months and to the random effect of the animal identity. Changes in RLTL, heritability and within-trait genetic correlation along the age trajectory were calculated and illustrated. At a population level, the relationship between RLTL and age was described by a positive quadratic function. Individuals varied significantly regarding the direction and amount of RLTL change over life. The heritability of RLTL ranged from 0.36 to 0.47 (SE = 0.05–0.08) and remained statistically unchanged over time. The genetic correlation of RLTL at birth with measurements later in life decreased with the time interval between samplings from near unity to 0.69, indicating that TL later in life might be regulated by different genes than TL early in life. Even though animals differed in their RLTL profiles significantly, those differences were not correlated with productive lifespan (p = 0.954).

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