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Effect of fatty acid composition of the sows’ diet on selected immune parameters of the
piglets after weaning
S. Millet1, S. Tanghe2, V. Melkebeek3, S. De Smet2, E. Cox3
¹ILVO (Institute of Agricultural and Fisheries Research), Animal Sciences Unit, 2Laboratory for Animal
Nutrition and Animal Product Quality, Department of Animal Production, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering,
Ghent University, 3 Laboratory of Immunology, Department of Virology, Parasitology and Immunology, Faculty
of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University
[email protected]
Introduction: Environmental exposures early in life are important for health and disease later
in life. Nutrition during pregnancy may have a fundamental influence on post natal
development. Studies in mice suggest perinatal programming effects of the fatty acid
composition of the maternal diet on their offspring's immune response, although different
studies yield contradictory results (Lauritzen et al., 2011; van Vlies et al., 2011). Knowledge
on the effect of the sows’ perinatal diet on the piglets immunity post-weaning is limited.
Therefore, this study aimed to investigate if the immunocompetence of piglets at weaning was
modulated by including different sources of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the
gestation and lactation feed of the sow.
Animals, material and methods: Thirty-two pregnant sows divided over two weaning
groups were fed a palm oil diet or a diet including 1% linseed oil, echium oil or fish oil from
day 73 of gestation until weaning at four weeks. All diets were formulated to contain a similar
amount of linoleic acid (C18:2n-6; 14 g/kg) and were supplemented with vitamin E (75
mg/kg). Piglets were fed a conventional diet without added n-3 PUFA from weaning until day
35 post-weaning. At weaning and 21 days post-weaning, four piglets per litter were
immunized with bovine thyroglobulin. Consequently, thyroglobulin-specific antibodies, and
serum amyloid A (SAA) concentration were determined in piglets’ blood at selected time
points. Data were analysed with repeated measurements analysis. All experimental procedures
involving animals were approved by ILVO’s Ethical Committee.
Results and discussion: The onset of the thyroglobulin-specific IgM response differed
between dietary groups, with a delay in response for piglets from sows fed the fish oil diet.
No significant diet effects were observed on the thyroglobulin-specific IgG and IgA titers.
However, in comparison with the echium oil diet, a tendency for lower IgA titers (P=0.08)
was observed on the linseed oil treatment. A tendency (P=0.10) to a lower IgG titer was
observed for the piglets from the sows fed the linseed oil diet, compared to the palm oil diet.
The measured immune responses differed to a larger extent between weaning groups than
between dietary treatment groups. Therefore, the observed changes may not be relevant in
view of other environmental factors affecting immunity. SAA concentration was highest one
day after weaning. It was higher on day 22 than on day 21. It was not possible to observe an
effect of maternal diet on SAA concentration (P=0.12).
Conclusion: Including n-3 PUFA in the maternal diet at the concentrations used in the
present study had no major effects on the measured immune parameters of the piglets after
weaning. Other environmental factors may have a larger impact on the adaptive and innate
Lauritzen, L., et al. 2011. Maternal intake of fish oil but not of linseed oil reduces the antibody response in
neonatal mice. Lipids 46, 171-178.
van Vlies, N., et al. 2011. Perinatal programming of murine immune responses by polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease 2, 112-123.