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Maternal stress during late gestation has moderate but long lasting effects on the immune system of the piglets

Abstract : Events acting prenatally on developing foetuses are important determinants for disorders later in life. Prenatal stress (PNS) is one of these events. The purpose of this study was to determine the consequences of a repeated social stress applied during late gestation of the pregnant gilt on the immune system and hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity of the piglets from birth to two months of age. Pregnant gilts were submitted to repeated social stress which was induced by housing unfamiliar gilts in pairs modified twice a week during 4 weeks between days 77 and 105 of gestation (S group, n = 18). Control gilts were housed in stable pairs during the same period (C group, n = 18). Blood cortisol, haptoglobin and IgG levels, immune cell counts, mitogen-induced whole-blood proliferation and TNF-alpha production were evaluated in piglets at 4 days of age (D4), before and after weaning (D26 and 28) and before and after relocation to a new building (D60 and 62). We found that PNS did not affect growth rate of the progeny. It decreased the relative weight of adrenal glands on D4 (P < 0.05) but plasma cortisol levels were similar in both groups at all ages. IgG levels in colostrum and in the serum of piglets were not affected. PNS decreased the total numbers of white blood cells, lymphocytes and granulocytes from D26 to D60 (P < 0.05), the CD4(+)/CD8(+) T cell ratio on D4 (P < 0.05). and LPS induced-TNF-alpha production on D60 (P < 0.05). PNS increased the ConA-induced lymphocyte proliferation on D4 and D60 and the PWM-induced proliferation on D60 (P < 0.05). Our results demonstrate that a repeated social stress applied to pregnant sows during late gestation can induce long-lasting effects on several parameters of the immune function of the offspring. These effects are not due to modifications of the HPA axis activity and may impair the abilities of the piglets to efficiently react against infections during the suckling period and around weaning.
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David Couret, Agnès Jamin, Gaëlle Kuntz-Simon, Armelle Prunier, Elodie Merlot. Maternal stress during late gestation has moderate but long lasting effects on the immune system of the piglets. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, Elsevier, 2009, 131 (1-2), pp.17-24. ⟨10.1016/j.vetimm.2009.03.003⟩. ⟨hal-02662042⟩



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