We studied the effect of a daily oral administration of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) to suckling piglets during day 2 -14 after birth. This nutritional intervention had a significant “bifidogenic” effect on the microbiota in the colon at day 14. A limited microbial effect was observed in the jejunum at days 14 and 25. However, the gene expression profile of jejunum tissue was changed significantly at days 14 and 25. At day 14, the jejunal mucosal tissue of FOS-treated piglets displayed a lower activity of cell cycle related processes and a higher activity of extracellular matrix processes. In addition, at day 25, a lower activity of immune-related processes was observed in the FOS-treated piglets.
These data are consistent with the role of early life microbiota in gut (immune) development. However, our data suggest that the gene expression effects displayed in the jejunum originate from microbial signals expressed in the colon. A good candidate for this signalling is butyrate, which is known to exhibit multiple beneficial (health) effects in the gut. Butyrate is produced by bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the colon and primarily provides energy to cells, but it also affects cell proliferation, cell maturation and gut integrity. Butyrate has also been described to function as an anti-inflammatory agent, primarily via inhibition of the transcriptional activator nuclear factor kB (NF-kB).
We hypothesize that FOS treatment results in a higher butyrate production in the colon due to the increase in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Higher levels of butyrate result in beneficial gene expression changes in the jejunum by, thus far, unknown routes of signalling and/or mechanisms. This whole study was conducted within the Public-Private-Partnership Feed4Foodure.