Free Access
Vet. Res.
Volume 34, Number 5, September-October 2003
Mastitis of dairy ruminants
Page(s) 647 - 670
How to cite this article Vet. Res. (2003) 647-670
Vet. Res. 34 (2003) 647-670
DOI: 10.1051/vetres:2003025

The complement in milk and defense of the bovine mammary gland against infections

Pascal Rainard

Laboratoire de Pathologie Infectieuse et Immunologie, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, 37380 Nouzilly, France
(Received 28 October 2002; accepted 13 January 2003)

The mammary gland of dairy cows, which is prone to infection by various bacteria, mobilizes local and systemic immune defenses to cope with pathogens. The complement system plays an important part in the innate immunity against microorganisms through its bactericidal, opsonic, and phlogistic functions. The amount of the complement in the milk of healthy glands of dairy cows is low. Moreover, the classical pathway of activation is not functional because of a shortage in C1q. By contrast, the alternative pathway is active, deposits C3b and C3bi on bacteria, and generates amounts of C5a which are highly variable among cows. A slight inhibition of the bactericidal/hemolytic activities, of the deposition of C1q on bacteria, and of the phlogistic activity of C5a makes milk a rather anti-inflammatory fluid. The inhibitory activity does not involve C3b/ C3bi deposition on bacteria, nor the generation of C5a by the alternative pathway. When inflammation develops, the blood-derived complement components overcome the inhibitions and complement-dependent bactericidal, opsonic and phlogistic activities may be high in milk. Further research is necessary to evaluate the contribution of C5a to the recruitment of leukocytes in the mammary gland, and to specify the links between the complement system and the response of resident cells (leukocytes and mammary epithelial cells) to infection stimulus. This will help to define the contribution of the complement system to resistance against mastitis, and could help to differentiate animals more or less resistant to this frequent and costly disease.

Key words: complement / milk / mastitis / dairy cattle / inflammation

Correspondence and reprints: Pascal Rainard

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2003