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Prebiotic fibres, an unquestionable benefit to piglet health

The consumption of short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (scFOS) by sows during gestation and lactation has a sustained and beneficial impact on the health of offspring. scFOS stimulate the development of immune functions and defences of their gut and enhance their response to a bacterial challenge.

Swine maternity of the GENESI unit on the Domaine du Magneraud Center Poitou-Charentes. © INRA, BAILLY Jean
Updated on 10/11/2017
Published on 08/21/2017

Diet and microbiota  

As in humans, the micro-organisms that populate the gut of animals exert a strong influence on their physiology. Numerous recent studies have emphasised the impact of gut microbiota composition on health and well-being (see INRA SIA 2017 dossier: "A la découverte des mondes microbiens").
Modulating the composition of the microbiota is now one of the options being explored to improve the management of human and animal health. The addition to foods of particular fibres (such as prebiotics) is one way to drive the composition of the microbiota. Prebiotics are substances that are not digested by the enzymatic system of the host but are metabolised by intestinal bacteria. By acting on the composition and metabolic activity of gut microbiota, prebiotics can have beneficial effects on the host.

Studies of the influence of scFOS in piglets

In the context of the FOSGUT research project (2011-2017), scientists from INRA (Joint Research Unit for Nutrition, Metabolism and Cancer) and Tereos studied the impact of prebiotic fibres in pigs, which were also used as a model for humans. They focused in particular on the effects of maternal diet supplementation with short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) on the immune system of their offspring. scFOS belong to the family of β-fructans, fibres that are present in fruits and vegetables. These substances are found naturally in the diet but in quantities that are too small to significantly impact the composition of the microbiota, but they can be supplied in the form of dietary supplements (scFOS are produced from beetroot).
The scientists studied the effects of this supplementation by comparing different parameters of the intestinal immune system (cytokines, immunoglobulins, cell maturation) in piglets suckled by sows whose diet was supplemented or not with scFOS (0.33% during the last third of gestation then 0.15% throughout lactation, equivalent to a daily intake of 10g).

A more efficient immune system

scFOS supplementation of the maternal diet stimulated the passive immunity transmitted to the new-born piglets. Indeed, the colostrum of supplemented sows contained higher levels of immunoglobulins A - IgA - (+ 51%) and cytokines (+ 29%). The development and maturation of the intestinal immune system of piglets was favoured: the density of mononucleated cells in the mesenteric lymph nodes was doubled, and the secretory capacity of IgA from Peyer’s patches was clearly increased (+ 46%).

Long-term beneficial effects

Furthermore, this maternal supplementation exerted a long-term effect on piglet health. A month after weaning, piglets fed by scFOS-supplemented mothers still presented elevated levels of IgA, interleukin 4, interferon and mucus-secreting cells in their intestinal secretions.

An improved response to vaccination against an intestinal bacterium, Lawsonia intracellularis, was also observed in the weaned piglets, with a 75% increase in the level of specific IgA. The metabolic activity of the piglet microbiota was stronger, with an increase in the production of short-chain fatty acids. This improved activity may therefore influence the production of mucosal cytokines and contribute to a more efficient immune system.

L’apport de scFOS dans la ration maternelle stimule l’immunité passive transmise au nouveau-né.. © INRA

The scientists are now studying more closely how the composition of the microbiota evolves in both piglets and young adults, in order to better understand its effect on the health of young and adult individuals.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Isabelle Le Huërou-Luron INRA-INSERM-Université de Rennes 1 Joint Research Unit for Nutrition, Metabolisms and Cancer (NuMeCan); “Nutrition, Gut, Brain” team, INRA 16 Le Clos, 35590 Saint-Gilles
  • Stéphanie Ferret-Bernard INRA-INSERM-Université de Rennes 1 Joint Research Unit for Nutrition, Metabolisms and Cancer (NuMeCan); “Nutrition, Gut, Brain” team, INRA 16 Le Clos, 35590 Saint-Gilles
Emmanuelle Apper Tereos Z.I. et portuaire BP 32 - 67390 Marckolsheim, http://tereos.com
Associated Division(s):
Nutrition, Chemical Food Safety and Consumer Behaviour
Associated Centre(s):

Find out more

  • Thesis by Cindy Le Bourgot, defended on 10 November 2016: La supplémentation périnatale en fibres prébiotiques (fructo-oligosaccharides à courte chaîne, scFOS) modifie le microbiote intestinal et programme le phénotype métabolique et immunitaire du porc, pris comme modèle de l’Homme.
  • Le Bourgot, C., Ferret-Bernard, S., Le Normand, L., Savary, G., Menendez-Aparicio, E., Blat, S., Apper-Bossard, E., Respondek, F. & Le Huërou-Luron, I. (2014). Maternal short-chain fructooligosaccharide supplementation influences intestinal immune system maturation in piglets. PloS one, 9(9), e107508.
  • Le Bourgot, C., Ferret-Bernard, S., Blat, S., Apper, E. & Le Huërou-Luron, I. (2016). Short-chain fructooligosaccharide supplementation during gestation and lactation or after weaning differentially impacts pig growth and IgA response to influenza vaccination. Journal of Functional Foods 24 307–315.
  • Le Bourgot, C., Le Normand, L., Formal, M., Respondek, F., Blat, S., Apper, E., Ferret-Bernard, S. & Le Huërou-Luron, I. (2017). Maternal short-chain fructo-oligosaccharide supplementation increases intestinal cytokine secretion, goblet cell number, butyrate concentration and Lawsonia intracellularis humoral vaccine response in weaned pigs. British Journal of Nutrition 117(1):83-92.