Postnatal development of intestinal immune system in piglets: implications for the process of weaning

C.R. Stokes, M. Bailey, K. Haverson, C. Harris, P. Jones, C. Inman, S. Pie, I.P. Oswald, B.A. Williams, A.D.L. Akkermans, E. Sowa, H.J. Rothkotter, B.G. Miller

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66 Citations (Scopus)


European-wide directives are in place to establish a sustainable production of pigs without using production enhancers and chemotherapeutics. Thus, an economically-viable pig production is now only possible when the physiological mechanisms of defense against pathogens and tolerance against nutrients and commensal bacteria in the intestinal immune system are taken into account. During the postnatal period the piglet is facing first the time large amounts of new antigens and at weaning a second wave of nutritional antigens is entering the intestinal tract. The appropriate development of humoral and cellular functions of the intestinal immune system is essential for optimum growth and performance of the piglets. The integrity of the intestinal surfaces is a prerequisite of intestinal immunity and tolerance. Secretory IgA serves to exclude harmful antigens from uptake. The induction of intestinal immune reactions starts with antigen presentation by professional antigen presenting cells of Peyer's patches and mesenteric lymph nodes. In addition, the intestinal lamina propria serves as a mucosal compartment for regulation of immune responses. Here especially T regulatory cells (CD4(+) CD25(+)) have their function for maintaining intestinal homeostasis. The network of mucosal T and B cells develops after birth in a programmed sequence; it is almost completed at week 7 after birth. Weaning is associated with changes in the regulation of the lymphoid cells in the mucosa. In small and large intestine increases in pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines were observed after weaning in lymphocytes. Epithelial cells were studied both in intestinal samples and in vitro. Here the cytokine patterns provide evidence that weaning is inducing a transient inflammation of the mucosa. Piglets weaned under conventional conditions have a thicker mucosa than pigs weaned from isolators. Cells of isolator-reared pigs show slightly higher levels of activation markers - probably reflecting the interaction of the foreign protein derived from bovine milk. The results presented in this overview demonstrate that further effort is necessary to elucidate the function of the porcine intestinal immune system in the postnatal period and at the time of weaning to provide criteria for porcine intestinal health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-334
JournalAnimal Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • antibody repertoire development
  • ileal peyers-patches
  • lamina propria
  • t-cells
  • intraepithelial lymphocytes
  • neonatal piglets
  • newborn piglets
  • miniature pig
  • antigen
  • gut

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