Effects of Stress Associated with Weaning on the Adaptive Immune System in Pigs

This study was designed to investigate the effects of weaning age on specific components of the adaptive immune system in pigs. Twenty-three crossbred pigs were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 treatments: weaning at 14 (14D, n = 8), 21 (21D, n = 7), or 28 (28D, n = 8) d of age. Peripheral blood samples, obtained when pigs were 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29, and 35 d of age, were analyzed for peripheral blood cell percentages and concentrations of neutrophils, lymphocytes, T cell subsets, mature B cells, and plasma cortisol concentrations. For each of the 3 groups, weaning increased plasma cortisol concentrations (P < 0.001) and reduced BW percentage change (P < 0.017). Lymphocyte concentrations displayed a treatment effect for the 14D (P = 0.074) and 28D (P = 0.014) groups. Albeit inconsistent, lymphocyte concentrations were less in weaned pigs on the day after weaning than in pigs remaining on the sow or weaned at a younger age. Specifically, mature B cells (CD21(+)) and CD4(+)CD8(+) cells decreased (P < 0.05) after weaning at 28 d of age. Other differences occurred among treatments; however, the differences apparently were not associated with weaning. Based upon the immunological measures used in the present study, there was not an explicit benefit to the adaptive immune system for any weaning age. Early weaning did not negatively affect the adaptive immunological competence of pigs as determined by changes in populations of immune cells.

Kick AR, Tompkins MB, Flowers WL, Whisnant CS, Almond GW; Effects of stress associated with weaning on the adaptive immune system in pigs; J Anim Sci. 2012 Feb;90(2):649-56. Epub 2011 Sep 16. PMID: 21926316 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]