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Serotonin's role in piglet mortality and thriftiness

R. L. Dennis, K. A. McMunn, H. W. Cheng, J. N. Marchant-Forde, D. C. Lay Jr.
Journal of animal science 2014 v.92 no.10 pp. 4888-4896
5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, analysis of variance, animal age, animal well-being, biosynthesis, blood, brain, correlation, dopamine, failure to thrive, farrowing, heat, heaters, homovanillic acid, humans, infant mortality, infants, litters (young animals), metabolites, piglets, serotonin, sleep, survival rate, swine production, tryptophan, umbilical cord
Improving piglet survivability rates is of high priority for swine production as well as for piglet well-being. Dysfunction in the serotonin (5-HT) system has been associated with growth deficiencies, infant mortalities, or failure to thrive in human infants. The aim of this research was to determine if a relationship exists between infant mortality and failure to thrive (or unthriftiness), and umbilical 5-HT concentration in piglets. Umbilical blood was collected from a total of 60 piglets from 15 litters for analysis of 5-HT and tryptophan (Trp; the AA precursor to 5-HT) concentrations. Behavior was scan sampled for the first 2 days after birth. Brain samples were also taken at 8 h after birth from healthy and unthrifty piglets (n = 41 group). The raphe nucleus was dissected out and analyzed for 5-HT and dopamine concentrations as well as their major metabolites 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HlAA) and homovanillic acid (HVA), respectively. Data were analyzed by ANOVA. Piglets that died with- in 48 h of birth (n = 14) had significantly lower umbilical blood 5-HT concentrations at the time of their birth compared to their healthy counterparts (n = 46, P = 0.003). However, no difference in Trp was detected (P 0.38). Time spent under the heat lamp and sleeping were positively correlated with umbilical 5-HT levels (P = 0.004 and P = 0.02, respectively), while inactiv- ity had a negative correlation with 5-HT levels (P = 0.04). In the raphe nucleus, the center for brain 5-HT biosynthesis, unthrifty piglets had a greater concentration of 5-HIAA (P = 0.02) and a trend for higher con- centrations of 5-HT (P = 0.07) compared with healthy piglets. Dopamine levels did not differ between thrifty and unthrifty piglets (P = 0.45); however, its metabolite HVA tended to be greater in unthrifty piglets (P = 0.05). Our results show evidence of serotonergic dys- function, at both the central and peripheral levels, accompanying early piglet mortalities. These data sug- gest a possible route for intervention, via the 5-HT sys- tem, to improve piglet survivability. However, further research is required to validate this hypothesis.