Leptin concentrations in periparturient ewes and their subsequent offspring


Leptin is an adipocyte-derived hormone that suppresses feed intake and increases energy expenditure. Leptin is also involved in regulating body temperature. Thus, the presence of leptin in milk, which can be absorbed through the gut of neonates immediately after birth, may aid in the survival of neonates born in cold weather. Our objectives were to determine the temporal relationship between concentrations of leptin in postpartum ewe blood serum and ewe milk serum, and to determine whether ewe blood and milk serum leptin concentrations were correlated with concentrations of leptin in lamb blood serum in their off-spring. Approximately 1 wk before the expected date of lambing, blood samples, weights, and body condition scores (BCS; 0 to 5 scale) were collected from 27 mixed-parity ewes. Following parturition, ewe blood and milk samples were collected within 2 h of parturition (d 0), 12 h (d 0.5) and 24 h (d 1) after parturition, again on d 5, and weekly thereafter until d 47. Lambs were blood-sampled and weighed within 2 h of parturition (d 0), bled daily until d 5, and bled and weighed weekly thereafter to d 47. Prior to lambing, ewe blood serum leptin was positively correlated with congruent BCS (r2 = 0, 10, P = 0.06), but not weight (P = 0.14). Following parturition, ewe blood serum leptin was positively correlated with BCS, weight, and milk serum leptin (r2 = 0.14, P < 0.0001, r2 = 0.12, P < 0.0001, and r2 = 0.028, P = 0.04). Leptin in milk serum was correlated with ewe weight (r2=0.05, P = 0.007) but not ewe BCS (P = 0.7); however, concentrations of leptin in both ewe blood and milk serum varied with day of lactation (P = 0.0001), being maximal within 24 h of parturition and declining to nadir concentrations by d 5. Leptin in lamb serum was correlated with milk serum leptin, (r2 = -0.05; P = 0.001), but not ewe blood serum leptin (P = 0.5). Concentrations of leptin in lamb serum increased from birth to d 5 and declined thereafter to nadir concentrations by d 19. Elevated concentrations of leptin in milk during the early stages of lactation may provide a mechanism for thermoregulation, satiation, and homeostatic endocrine control in the neonate.

Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Animal Science