Effects of supplemental L-tryptophan on serotonin, cortisol, intestinal integrity, and behavior in weanling piglets

S.J. Koopmans, A.C. Guzik, J. van der Meulen, R.A. Dekker, J. Kogut, B.J. Kerr, L.L. Southern

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109 Citations (Scopus)


Stress occurs in intensive pig farming when piglets are weaned and mixed. In this study, we investigated whether this stress might be reduced with elevated dietary levels of Trp. The effects of supplemental dietary Trp (5 g/kg of feed, as-fed basis) were tested on the neuroendocrine system, intestinal integrity, behavior, and growth performance in nursery pigs, both before and after mixing. Mixing occurred 5 d after weaning and diet introduction. On d 4, 5, and 6, Trp-fed pigs vs. control pigs showed approximately a 2-fold elevation in plasma Trp concentrations (68 ± 7 vs. 32 ± 2 µmol/L; P <0.001), a 38% increase in hypothalamic serotonin turnover as measured by 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid:5-hydroxytryptamine (P <0.001), and an 11 to 18% increase (P <0.05) in the intestinal villus height:crypt depth. Before (d 4) and at (d 5) mixing, saliva but not plasma cortisol concentrations were reduced (P <0.02) by approximately 2-fold in Trp-fed pigs vs. control pigs. Intestinal paracellular (horseradish peroxidase) and transcellular (fluorescein isothiocyanate) transport of macromolecules were not affected by dietary treatment, but mixing induced a 2-fold reduction (P <0.05) in transcellular transport. Behavioral responses (lying and standing) at mixing were not affected by dietary treatment, except on d 10 after diet introduction when Trp supplementation induced more lying and less standing (P <0.02). Average daily gain and ADFI were not different among dietary groups (P > 0.10). In conclusion, supplemental dietary Trp (5 g/kg) to piglets increased hypothalamic serotonergic activity, reduced the salivary cortisol response to mixing, improved intestinal morphology, and reduced physical activity 10 d after diet introduction. Consequently, diets containing high Trp levels improved neuroendocrine components of stress and increased gastrointestinal robustness but did not affect behavioral reactivity in nursery pigs during weaning and mixing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-971
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • dietary tryptophan
  • salivary cortisol
  • amino-acids
  • growth-performance
  • laying hens
  • young-pigs
  • plasma
  • protein
  • aggression
  • decreases


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