Koester, Diana C., Wildt, David E., Maly, Morgan, Comizzoli, Pierre, and Crosier, Adrienne E. 2017. "Non-invasive identification of protein biomarkers for early pregnancy diagnosis in the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)." PloS One 12 (12):1-21. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188575
Approximately 80% of cheetahs living in typical zoological collections never reproduce. In more than 60% of breedings, the female is confirmed to ovulate, but parturition fails to occur. It is unknown if these non-pregnant intervals of elevated progesterone (deemed luteal phases) are conception failures or a pregnancy terminating in embryonic/fetal loss. There have been recent advances in metabolic profiling and proteome analyses in many species with mass spectrometry used to identify 'biomarkers' and mechanisms indicative of specific physiological states (including pregnancy). Here, we hypothesized that protein expression in voided cheetah feces varied depending on pregnancy status. We: 1) identified the expansive protein profile present in fecal material of females; and 2) isolated proteins that may be candidates playing a role in early pregnancy establishment and diagnosis. Five hundred and seventy unique proteins were discovered among samples from pregnant (n = 8), non-pregnant, luteal phase (n = 5), and non-ovulatory control (n = 5) cheetahs. Four protein candidates were isolated that were significantly up-regulated and two were down-regulated in samples from pregnant compared to non-pregnant or control counterparts. One up-regulated candidate, immunoglobulin J chain (IGJ; an important component of the secretory immune system) was detected using a commercially available antibody via immunoblotting. Findings revealed that increased IGJ abundance could be used to detect pregnancy successfully in >80% of 23 assessed females within 4 weeks after mating. The discovery of a novel fecal pregnancy marker improves the ability to determine reproductive, especially gestational, status in cheetahs managed in an ex situ insurance and source population.