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Antibiotics affect piglets' immune system

Early life antibiotic treatment influences pig intestinal immune programming. Piglets that receive an antibiotic treatment during early life have a less well-developed immune system compared to control piglets, says Dr Dirkjan Schokker of Wageningen UR.

Dr. Dirkjan Schokker: "We split littermates into three experimental groups: 1) controls; 2) antibiotic treatment at day 4 after birth; and 3) same antibiotic treatment in combination with early life management stressors (including tail docking and nail clipping). By determining the bacterial composition in the gut (microbiota) and the gene activity in the gut wall at days 8, 55 and 176 after birth, it was possible to get more insight into the biology. Both the composition and diversity of gut microbiota was affected and we observed the short- and long-term changes due to these early life treatments."

Increased activity of immune-related processes in gut tissue

"At day 8 after birth, we observed increased activity of immune-related processes in the gut tissue. Especially genes encoding immune receptors showed highest activity in the control group, followed by the antibiotic/management stressor group, and lastly the antibiotic group. At day 55, four weeks after weaning, it was not possible to detect treatment specific changes, most probably due to the high variation resulting from the weaning process. However, at day 176, the diversity of the microbiota in the antibiotic treatment group was lower compared to the other two groups. In addition, the activity of the immune system still differed between the treatment groups."

Early life antibiotic treatment influences gut maturation

"In conclusion, early life antibiotic treatment influences gut maturation, including the programming of the immune system, and may have a life-long impact. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the observed long lasting effects are most probably due to differences in the programming of the gut immune system as induced by the temporary early life changes in the composition and/or diversity of microbiota in the gut. In this context it is worth mentioning that the animal's genotype also co-determines the pattern of early life microbial colonisation of the gut."

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2 comments

  • D G S Burch

    Which type of antimicrobial was it and was it given by injection or orally? The effect may be related to the type of antimicrobial used. If it was a fluoroquinolone given by injection, it is excreted primarily via the liver and bile back into the gut where it can have a broad-spectrum antibacterial effect. The same can be expected if it is given orally. If it is a beta-lactam like a cephalosporin or amoxicillin given by injection it is primarily excreted via the urinary tract and one would not necessarily expect a major influence on the gut flora. If these were given orally then a major disruption of the gut flora can be expected.
    Best regards
    David Burch

  • Rafael Raga

    Hello David,
    I had a look to the full article and they used Tulathromycine given by injection. Tulathromycine is a macrolide, so it is excreted by kidneys but also via liver and bile back into the gut. Regarding to the antibacterial effect, macrolides mainly affect gram positive bacteria, but a bit gram negative too, so it can be expected a disruption of the gut flora.
    Best regards,
    Rafael Raga

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