Thymol and Carvacrol Affect Hybrid Tilapia through the Combination of Direct Stimulation and an Intestinal Microbiota-Mediated Effect: Insights from a Germ-Free Zebrafish Model1-3

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Essential oils (EOs) are commonly used as animal feed additives. Information is lacking on the mechanisms driving the beneficial effects of EOs in animals, especially the role played by the intestinal microbiota of the host.


The purpose of this study was to clarify the relative contribution of direct effects of EOs on the physiology and immune system of tilapia and indirect effects mediated by the intestinal microbiota by using a germ-free zebrafish model.


Juvenile hybrid tilapia were fed a control diet or 1 of 4 treatment diets containing 60-800 mg Next Enhance 150 (NE) (an EO product containing equal levels of thymol and carvacrol)/kg for 6 wk. The key humoral and cellular innate immune parameters were evaluated after the feeding period. In another experiment, the gut microbiota of tilapia fed a control or an NE diet (200 mg/kg) for 2 wk were transferred to 3-d postfertilization (dpf) germ-free (GF) zebrafish, and the expression of genes involved in innate immunity and tight junctions was evaluated in zebrafish at 6 dpf. Lastly, NE was directly applied to 3-dpf GF zebrafish at 3 doses ranging from 0.2 to 20 mg/L, and the direct effect of NE on zebrafish was evaluated after 1 and 3 d.


NE supplementation at 200 mg/kg enhanced phagocytosis activity of head kidney macrophages (×1.36) (P < 0.05) and plasma lysozyme activity (×1.69) of tilapia compared with the control (P < 0.001), indicating an immunostimulatory effect. Compared with those colonized with control microbiota, GF zebrafish colonized with NE microbiota showed attenuated induction of immune response marker genes serum amyloid a (Saa; ×0.62), interleukin 1β (II1β; ×0.29), and interleukin 8 (II8; ×0.62) (P < 0.05). NE treatment of GF zebrafish at 2 and 20 mg/L for 1 d upregulated the expression of II1β (×2.44) and Claudin1 (×1.38), respectively (P < 0.05), whereas at day 3 the expression of Occludin2 was higher (×3.30) in the 0.2-mg NE/L group compared with the GF control (P < 0.05).


NE may affect the immunity of tilapia through a combination of factors, i.e., primarily through a direct effect on host tissue (immune-stimulating) but also an indirect effect mediated by microbial changes (immune-relieving).

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