Transport-related stress and its resolution in turkey pullets: activation of a pro-inflammatory response in peripheral blood leukocytes

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Abstract

The transportation process is one of the most stressful practices in poultry and livestock management. Extensive knowledge is available on the impact of transport on stress and animal welfare; however, little is known on the impact of transport on the physiology of turkey pullets, their welfare and health, and even less on the process of homeostatic recovery in the post-transport new environment. The main focus of this manuscript was to focus on trauma, stress, and recovery following transport of turkey pullets from nurseries to pullet farms. Specifically, we determined the physiological consequences of transport, the temporal restoration of homeostasis and its effects on immune system function. We hypothesized that stress signaling by stress hormones would directly activate circulating turkey blood leukocytes (TBL), thus inducing a pro-inflammatory response directed towards tissue repair and recovery. Extensive blood analyses prior to transit and during the collecting, transit, and post-transit stages revealed extensive stress (elevated heat shock protein 70) and blunt-force trauma (internal bleeding and muscle damage as well as limb fractures). TBL were shown to increase mRNA expression of cortisol and adrenergic receptors during transit, thus indicating a possible direct response to circulating stress hormones. Consequently, TBL were shown to increase mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as that of serum inflammatory proteins (lysozyme and transferrin) partaking in reducing oxygen radicals as demonstrated by consumption of these proteins. The flare-up due to transit related stress diminished with time until 10 d post-transit, a time at which most parameters returned to resting levels. Though general and vaccine-specific antibody levels were not altered by transport-related stress, the physical and physiological injury caused during transport may explain the susceptibility of turkey pullets to opportunist pathogens in the immediate post-transit period.

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