When producers spot a sick animal, they often begin to closely monitor water and feed intake. That instinct is right on target based on what is known about animals’ immune systems. While seemingly simple, these tasks help support a diverse community of microorganisms found in all animals called the microbiome, according to an announcement from Lallemand Animal Nutrition.
“The microbiome is a collection of different microorganisms that we find in the intestinal tract of animals, and we know these microorganisms are essential to immune development,” said Dr. Christopher Chase, professor in the department of veterinary and biomedical sciences at South Dakota State University. “Understanding how they interact with the gut -- and particularly the epithelium of the gut -- is really important.”
In the last 5-10 years, researchers have shown that the epithelial cells of the gut and respiratory tract act as an “immune organ.”
“This means the cells are not just there to absorb and secrete but also pick up signals, particularly signals from the microbiome,” Chase said.
Lallemand noted that the epithelial mucosa fights infection in four major ways:
1. It produces mucus to act as a barrier;
2. It creates antimicrobial peptides, which are the body’s own antibiotics;
3. It produce immunoglobulin A (IgA), the largest antibody produced in the body, which is not made by epithelial cells but is exported and partially regulated in epithelial cells, and
4. The formation of tight junctions so bacteria and other metabolites can’t get through.
As inflammation increases, these tight junctions begin to break down, which results in leaky gut, the announcement said. When the intestinal tract leaks, bacteria and other foreign matter can get past the barrier. This causes an inflammatory immune response, which can often be too robust and cause damage in other parts of the body.
“The other thing we know about the mucosa of the gut is that it’s related to adaptive immunity,” Chase said. “Long-term immunity is called adaptive immunity. In the gut, adaptive immunity is localized; it’s just in that particular area. It does interact. We’ve been able to measure the same response seen in the gut also in the lungs or reproductive tract.”
This research and insight can help producers manage the innate immunity within the animal. Lallemand said potential ways to manage the microbiome include feeding probiotics and prebiotics; using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to manage inflammation prior to or during stress; ensuring adequate hydration to help create sufficient mucus, and nutrition to fuel the animal’s natural immune response.
Some types of probiotics and prebiotics can help support gut health and may also send signals to the epithelium to maintain the anti-inflammatory response, Chase said.
“As we look at managing immunity, it’s important that we think about feeding probiotics and prebiotics that will help us with health, managing hydration and having good intakes,” he said. “If we do all those things, we’re going to help manage disease and the inflammatory response.”