Estrous behavior in dairy cows: identification of underlying mechanisms and gene functions

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Selection in dairy cattle for a higher milk yield has coincided with declined fertility. One of the factors is reduced expression of estrous behavior. Changes in systems that regulate the estrous behavior could be manifested by altered gene expression. This literature review describes the current knowledge on mechanisms and genes involved in the regulation of estrous behavior. The endocrinological regulation of the estrous cycle in dairy cows is well described. Estradiol (E2) is assumed to be the key regulator that synchronizes endocrine and behavioral events. Other pivotal hormones are, for example, progesterone, gonadotropin releasing hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1. Interactions between the latter and E2 may play a role in the unfavorable effects of milk yield-related metabolic stress on fertility in high milk-producing dairy cows. However, a clear understanding of how endocrine mechanisms are tied to estrous behavior in cows is only starting to emerge. Recent studies on gene expression and signaling pathways in rodents and other animals contribute to our understanding of genes and mechanisms involved in estrous behavior. Studies in rodents, for example, show that estrogen-induced gene expression in specific brain areas such as the hypothalamus play an important role. Through these estrogen-induced gene expressions, E2 alters the functioning of neuronal networks that underlie estrous behavior, by affecting dendritic connections between cells, receptor populations and neurotransmitter releases. To improve the understanding of complex biological networks, like estrus regulation, and to deal with the increasing amount of genomic information that becomes available, mathematical models can be helpful. Systems biology combines physiological and genomic data with mathematical modeling. Possible applications of systems biology approaches in the field of female fertility and estrous behavior are discussed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-453
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • gonadotropin-releasing-hormone
  • signal-transduction pathways
  • growth-factor-i
  • prostaglandin-d synthase
  • central-nervous-system
  • sexual-behavior
  • female rats
  • mathematical-model
  • follicle development
  • domestic ruminants


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