In the present study newly calved cows were tentatively classified as moderate and severe responders to experimentally induced Escherichia coli mastitis based upon the reactive oxygen species (ROS)-generating capacity of their blood neutrophils before infection. The groups differed in blood and milk composition prior to infection. This initial classification was supported by the corresponding variation in clinical symptoms and in the changes in milk production and composition measured during mastitis. Responses of newly calved cows to Esch. coli challenge varied from mild to severe symptoms of inflammation in infected glands and differed in the intensity of systemic disturbances and general illness. Losses in milk yield and compositional changes were most pronounced in inflamed glands and in severe responders. In inflamed glands milk yield and composition did not return to preinfection level in either moderate or severe responders. The yields of lactose, α-lactalbumin, casein and fat followed the same pattern as milk yield. It is concluded that the severe and long lasting systemic disturbances observed in severe responders can be ascribed to absorption of endotoxin from infected glands into circulation, indicating the important role of endotoxin in the pathology of coliform mastitis in periparturient cows. Evaluation of the ROS-generating capacity of blood neutrophils and blood and milk composition before infection might help to predict the cow's sensitivity to Esch. coli mastitis.
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