US - Serotonin is best known for eliciting feelings of happiness in the human brain, but scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found the hormone plays a role in milk production in dairy cows.
Cows develop a disease called milk fever when the amount of calcium circulating in their blood decreases. Serious cases are easy to spot: Cows get cold and develop noticeable tremors. But as many as half of all dairy cows develop a milder case of milk fever that can still cause health problems for the cows and inadequate calcium for milk production.
"The more prevalent form is not easy to identify because you don't see the animal shaking," said Laura Hernandez, a UW-Madison professor of dairy science. "But because of the low calcium, the cows become susceptible to other diseases."
This month Ms Hernandez published in the Journal of Endocrinology a study that shows that increased serotonin levels lead to increased calcium levels - albeit in different places in different dairy cow breeds. The study included both Jersey cows and Holstein cows, which received injections of a compound that is metabolised into serotonin.
"In the Jersey cows, serotonin increased calcium in the milk, but in the Holsteins, we saw increased calcium in blood," said Ms Hernandez.
"Because we looked at both breeds, we were able to see that the calcium regulation is different. Now we're working to understand how this works on a molecular level and translate these findings into treatments for milk fever."
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