Authors:Igor Ujčič-Vrhovnik, Tanja Švara, Tadej Malovrh and Breda Jakovac-Strajn
In this study, feed naturally containing Fusarium mycotoxins was fed to gilts during the perinatal period, and the effects on the thymus were investigated in one-week-old piglets. Twenty gilts were divided into equal control (0.26 mg deoxynivalenol, DON) and experimental (5.08 mg DON, 0.09 mg zearalenone and 21.61 mg fusaric acid per kg of feed) groups. One suckling piglet from each litter (n = 20) was sacrificed at one week of age to obtain thymus samples for further analysis. The cortex to medulla ratio of the thymus was morphometrically analysed using NIS Elements BR (Nikon) software. Paraffin-embedded thymus sections were stained to quantify apoptosis (with terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labelling – TUNEL method), cellular proliferation (Ki-67) and macrophages (MAC 387). The results showed that the thymus cortex (P = 0.023) to medulla (P = 0.023) ratio was significantly lower in the experimental group. The number of apoptotic cells (cortex, P = 0.010, medulla, P = 0.001) and the number of proliferating cells in the thymus cortex (P = 0.001) and medulla (P < 0.001) were significantly higher in the experimental group. Our results indicate that feeding Fusarium mycotoxins to a parent animal during the perinatal period induces significant alterations in the thymus of one-week-old piglets, which indicates an immunosuppressive effect in piglets.