Immune responses to improving welfare

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Abstract

The relationship between animal welfare and the immune status of an animal has a complex nature. Indeed, the intuitive notion that “increased vigilance of the immune system is by definition better” because it is expected to better keep the animal healthy, does not hold up under scrutiny. This is mostly due to the fact that the immune system consists of 2 distinct branches, the innate and the adaptive immune system. While they are intimately intertwined and synergistic in the living organism, they are profoundly different in their costs, both in terms of performance and wellbeing. In contrast to the adaptive immune system, the action of the innate immune system has a high metabolic cost as well as undesirable behavioral consequences. When a pathogen breaches the first line of defense (often a mucosal barrier), that organism's molecular signature is recognized by resident macrophages. The macrophages respond by releasing a cocktail of pro-inflammatory cytokines (including interleukin-1 and -6) that signal the brain via multiple pathways (humoral as well as neural) of the ongoing peripheral innate immune response. The behavioral response to the release of proinflammatory cytokines, known as “sickness behavior,” includes nearly all the behavioral aspects that are symptomatic for clinical depression in humans. Hence, undesired innate immune activity, such as chronic inflammation, needs to be avoided by the industry. From an immunological standpoint, one of the most pressing poultry industry needs is the refinement of our current veterinary vaccine arsenal. The response to a vaccine, especially to a live attenuated vaccine, is often a combination of innate and adaptive immune activities, and the desired immunogenicity comes at the price of high reactogenicity. The morbidity, albeit limited and transient, caused by live vaccines against respiratory diseases and coccidiosis are good examples. Thankfully, the advent of various post-genomics technologies, such as DNA vaccines and vectored subunit vaccines, offer reason for optimism that substantial progress can be made towards the vaccine refinement goal in the near future.

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