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Animals 2019, 9(3), 112; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9030112

Pregnancy-Associated Alterations of Peripheral Blood Immune Cell Numbers in Domestic Sows Are Modified by Social Rank

Department of Behavioral Physiology of Livestock, Institute of Animal Science, University of Hohenheim, Garbenstr 17, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany
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Received: 10 February 2019 / Revised: 18 March 2019 / Accepted: 21 March 2019 / Published: 23 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Impact of Environment and Stressors on Animal Welfare)
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Simple Summary

During pregnancy, the maternal immune system is characterized by changes in various immune functions. Nevertheless, pregnancy-associated immune changes and the interplay of rank-associated and gestation-induced immunomodulations are still poorly investigated in sows. Important aspects of blood cellular immunity, cortisol concentrations, and the influence of social rank position during pregnancy were investigated. The results showed that the numbers of various lymphocyte subpopulations decreased, while neutrophils and plasma cortisol concentrations increased during pregnancy. Those pregnancy-associated alterations in the immune system were affected especially in middle-ranking sows, indicating that social rank can influence the immune system and endocrine status in sows during pregnancy.

Abstract

During pregnancy, the maternal immune system is characterized by a shift from adaptive to innate immune functions. Besides, the immune system can be influenced by social rank. Detailed knowledge of pregnancy-associated immune changes and of the interplay of rank-associated and gestation-induced immunomodulations is still fragmentary in sows. This study investigates both the numbers of various blood leukocyte subpopulations during pregnancy and the influence of social rank position on progressing pregnancy-associated alterations in group-housed sows. Sows were classified as low (LR), middle (MR), or high-ranking (HR). Five blood samples were collected from each of the 35 sows throughout pregnancy to evaluate the distribution of blood lymphocyte subpopulations and plasma cortisol concentrations. The numbers of T, natural killer (NK), and B cells, cytotoxic T cells (CTL), and CD8+ γδ- T cells decreased during the last trimester of pregnancy, while neutrophils and plasma cortisol concentration increased before parturition. Social rank revealed different effects on B cells and monocytes with MR sows showing higher numbers than LR sows. Plasma cortisol concentrations also tended to be higher in MR sows as compared to LR sows. In conclusion, sows show pregnancy-associated alterations in the immune system, which are influenced by social rank, as middle-ranking sows in particular display signs of stress-induced immunomodulations. View Full-Text
Keywords: blood leukocyte subsets; cortisol; gestation; pig; reproduction; social rank blood leukocyte subsets; cortisol; gestation; pig; reproduction; social rank
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Schalk, C.; Pfaffinger, B.; Schmucker, S.; Weiler, U.; Stefanski, V. Pregnancy-Associated Alterations of Peripheral Blood Immune Cell Numbers in Domestic Sows Are Modified by Social Rank. Animals 2019, 9, 112.

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