Early life antibiotic treatment influences pig intestinal immune programming. Piglets that receive an antibiotic treatment during early life have a less well-developed immune system compared to control piglets.
We split littermates into three experimental groups: 1) controls; 2) antibiotic treatment at day 4 after birth; and 3) same antibiotic treatment in combination with early life management stressors (including tail docking and nail clipping). By determining the bacterial composition in the gut (microbiota) and the gene activity in the gut wall at days 8, 55 and 176 after birth, it was possible to get more insight into the biology. Both the composition and diversity of gut microbiota was affected and we observed the short- and long-term changes due to these early life treatments. At day 8 after birth, we observed increased activity of immune-related processes in the gut tissue. Especially genes encoding immune receptors showed highest activity in the control group, followed by the antibiotic/management stressor group, and lastly the antibiotic group. At day 55, four weeks after weaning, it was not possible to detect treatment specific changes, most probably due to the high variation resulting from the weaning process. However, at day 176, the diversity of the microbiota in the antibiotic treatment group was lower compared to the other two groups. In addition, the activity of the immune system still differed between the treatment groups.
Early life antibiotic treatment influences gut maturation
In conclusion, early life antibiotic treatment influences gut maturation, including the programming of the immune system, and may have a life-long impact. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the observed long lasting effects are most probably due to differences in the programming of the gut immune system as induced by the temporary early life changes in the composition and/or diversity of microbiota in the gut. In this context it is worth mentioning that the animal’s genotype also co-determines the pattern of early life microbial colonization of the gut.