Manenti, I., Viola, I., Ala, U. et al. 2023. Adaptation response in sheep: Ewes in different cortisol clusters reveal changes in the expression of salivary mirnas. Animals 13(20), 3273.

Farm procedures have an impact on animal welfare by activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that induces a wide array of physiological responses. This adaptive system guarantees that the animal copes with environmental variations and it induces metabolic and molecular changes that can be quantified. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play a key role in the regulation of homeostasis and emerging evidence has identified circulating miRNAs as promising biomarkers of stress-related disorders in animals. Based on a clustering analysis of salivary cortisol trends and levels, 20 ewes were classified into two different clusters. The introduction of a ram in the flock was identified as a common farm practice and reference time point to collect saliva samples. Sixteen miRNAs related to the adaptation response were selected. Among them, miR-16b, miR-21, miR-24, miR-26a, miR-27a, miR-99a, and miR-223 were amplified in saliva samples. Cluster 1 was characterized by a lower expression of miR-16b and miR-21 compared with Cluster 2 (p < 0.05). This study identified for the first time several miRNAs expressed in sheep saliva, pointing out significant differences in the expression patterns between the cortisol clusters. In addition, the trend analyses of these miRNAs resulted in clusters (p = 0.017), suggesting the possible cooperation of miR-16b and -21 in the integrated stress responses, as already demonstrated in other species as well. Other research to define the role of these miRNAs is needed, but the evaluation of the salivary miRNAs could support the selection of ewes for different profiles of response to sources of stressors common in the farm scenario.

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