Early-life microbiota transplantation affects behavioural responses, serotonin and immune characteristics in chicken lines divergently selected on feather pecking

J.A.J. van der Eijk*, T.B. Rodenburg, H.J.A. de Vries, J.B. Kjaer, H. Smidt, M. Naguib, B. Kemp, A. Lammers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Gut microbiota influences host behaviour and physiology, such as anxiety, stress, serotonergic and immune systems. These behavioural and physiological characteristics are related to feather pecking (FP), a damaging behaviour in chickens that reduces animal welfare and productivity. Moreover, high FP (HFP) and low FP (LFP) lines differed in microbiota composition. However, it is unknown whether microbiota can influence the development of FP. For the first time, we identified the effects of microbiota transplantation on FP, and behavioural and physiological characteristics related to FP. HFP and LFP chicks received sterile saline (control), HFP or LFP microbiota transplantation during the first two weeks post-hatch. Microbiota transplantation influenced behavioural responses of the HFP line during treatment and of the LFP line after treatment. In both lines, homologous microbiota transplantation (i.e., receiving microbiota from their line) resulted in more active behavioural responses. Furthermore, microbiota transplantation influenced immune characteristics (natural antibodies) in both lines and peripheral serotonin in the LFP line. However, limited effects on microbiota composition, stress response (corticosterone) and FP were noted. Thus, early-life microbiota transplantation had immediate and long-term effects on behavioural responses and long-term effects on immune characteristics and peripheral serotonin; however, the effects were dependent on host genotype. Since early-life microbiota transplantation influenced behavioural and physiological characteristics that are related to FP, it could thus influence the development of FP later in life
Original languageEnglish
Article number2750
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2020


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