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Effects of prenatal stress on cellular and humoral immune responses in neonatal pigs

Tuchscherer, M., Kanitz, E., Otten, W., Tuchscherer, A.
Veterinary immunology and immunopathology 2002 v.86 no.3-4 pp. 195-203
B-lymphocytes, Phytolacca americana, T-lymphocytes, blood serum, concanavalin A, corticotropin, cytotoxicity, disease resistance, humoral immunity, immune response, immunoglobulin G, lymphocyte proliferation, morbidity, mortality, ontogeny, piglets, pregnancy, progeny, sows, suckling
In the present study, we investigated the effects of a daily 5 min restraint stress of pregnant sows in the last five gestational weeks on the development and reactivity of the immune system of the offspring. Maternal stress resulted in significant decreased serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrations in suckling piglets at 1 and 3 days of age. Furthermore, the stress treatment of the sows had an immunosuppressive effect on lymphocyte proliferation in response to the T-cell mitogen concanavalin A (ConA) at postnatal days 1 and 7. A suppressive effect was also found in response to the B-cell mitogens lipopolysaccharid (LPS) at days 1 and 35 and pokeweed mitogen (PWM) at day 1 of life, whereas natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity was not altered by prenatal stress. The relative thymus weights were significantly reduced in prenatally stressed piglets on the first and 35th day of life and the morbidity and mortality during the suckling period were significantly increased in prenatally stressed litters, as shown by a higher frequency of diseased and died piglets per litter. In addition, the ConA-, LPS- and PWM-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation at the age of 7, 21 and 35 days, and the NK cell cytotoxicity at the age of 21 and 35 days decreased in prenatally stressed and in control piglets 1 h after a corticotropin (ACTH) injection. However, the cellular immunity was always higher in the control piglets which might be a result of the weaker stress hormone reactivity in prenatally stressed animals. In conclusion, the results provide first experimental evidence that prenatal maternal stress during late gestation is able to impair both humoral and cellular immune function in suckling piglets. The data also suggest that gestational stress in pigs may affect the ontogeny of the foetal immune system with consequences on the susceptibility to diseases and immune responsiveness to stressful stimuli of the offspring.