Intestinal barrier function and absorption in pigs after waeaning: a review

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Under commercial conditions, weaning of piglets is associated with social, environmental and dietary stress. Consequently, small-intestinal barrier and absorptive functions deteriorate within a short time after weaning. Most studies that have assessed small-intestinal permeability in pigs after weaning used either Ussing chambers or orally administered marker probes. Paracellular barrier function and active absorption decrease when pigs are weaned at 3 weeks of age or earlier. However, when weaned at 4 weeks of age or later, the barrier function is less affected, and active absorption is not affected or is increased. Weaning stress is a critical factor in relation to the compromised paracellular barrier function after weaning. Adequate feed intake levels after weaning prevent the loss of the intestinal barrier function. Transcellular transport of macromolecules and passive transcellular absorption decrease after weaning. This may reflect a natural intestinal maturation process that is enhanced by the weaning process and prevents the pig from an antigen overload. It seems that passive and active absorption after weaning adapt accurately to the new environment when pigs are weaned after 3 weeks of age. However, when weaned at 3 weeks of age or earlier, the decrease in active absorption indicates that pigs are unable to sufficiently adapt to the new environment. To improve weaning strategies, future studies should distinguish whether the effect of feed intake on barrier function can be directed to a lack of a specific nutrient, i.e. energy or protein.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-981
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • epithelium in-vitro
  • feed-intake
  • parenteral-nutrition
  • glucose-absorption
  • villous height
  • ion-transport
  • crypt depth
  • fatty-acids
  • weaned pig
  • piglets

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