Veterinary Research Communications

, Volume 23, Issue 7, pp 399–413 | Cite as

The Effect of Dexamethasone on Some Immunological Parameters in Cattle

  • B.H. Anderson
  • D.L. Watson
  • I.G. Colditz


Immunosuppression as a consequence of acute and chronic stress can increase the susceptibility of cattle to a range of infectious diseases. In order to develop a panel of immune function assays for investigating the effects of potential stressors on immune competence in cattle, the effect of treatment with short- and long-acting preparations of the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone was examined. Short-acting dexamethasone (dexamethasone sodium phosphate 0.08 mg/kg) followed 37 h later by long-acting dexamethasone (dexamethasone-21 isonicotinate 0.25 mg/kg) was injected intramuscularly and blood was collected to assess immune functions at intervals over the subsequent 11 days from 6 treated and 6 control Hereford steers. Dexamethasone induced leukocytosis (neutrophilia, eosinopenia, lymphopenia, monocytosis), an increased neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio, an elevated percentage of CD4+ lymphocytes, a decreased total CD8+ lymphocyte count, decreased total and percentage WC1+ lymphocytes, an elevated percentage of IL-2 receptor alpha (IL-2Rα)+ lymphocytes, and an elevated percentage of B lymphocytes. In vitro chemotaxis of peripheral blood neutrophils to human C5a and ovine IL-8 was increased by dexamethasone treatment. Lymphocyte proliferation in the presence of phytohaemagglutinin, and serum concentrations of IgM, but not IgA or IgG1, were suppressed by dexamethasone treatment, whereas mitogen-induced production of interferon-γ (IFN-γ), neutrophil expression of CD18, neutrophil myeloperoxidase activity and natural killer (NK) cell activity were not influenced by dexamethasone treatment. The results indicate the potential for haematology and immune function assays to reflect elevated activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical axis in cattle. Immunological parameters may thus provide a useful adjunct to cortisol and behavioural observations for assessing the impact of stress on the welfare of cattle.

cattle dexamethasone IgM immune competence lymphocytes neutrophils stress welfare 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • B.H. Anderson
    • 1
  • D.L. Watson
    • 1
  • I.G. Colditz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cooperative Research Centre for the Cattle and Beef Industry (Meat Quality) and CSIRO Animal ProductionArmidaleAustralia

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