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Correlations between intestinal innate immune genes and cecal microbiota highlight potential for probiotic development for immune modulation in poultry


Immune function is influenced by the diversity and stability of the intestinal microbiota. A likely trade-off of immune function for growth has been demonstrated in heavier breeds of poultry that have been genetically selected for growth and feed efficiency traits. We investigated the expression of selected innate immune genes and genes encoding products involved in intestinal barrier function to determine whether function changes could be consistently linked to the phenotypic expression of feed conversion ratio (FCR), a common measure of performance within poultry broiler flocks. In addition, we compared individual cecal microbial composition with innate immune gene expression. Samples were utilised from two replicate trials termed P1E1 and P1E2. High (n = 12) and low (n = 12) performing birds were selected based on their individual FCR data from each replicate and combined for microbiota phylogenetic composition and immune gene expression analysis. Toll-like receptor 1 (TLR1La) and zonula occludens 1 (ZO1) were differentially expressed between high- and low-performing broilers. Several taxa were correlated with FCR; of these, unclassified YS2 and ZO1 were also positively correlated with each other. Interactions between taxa and differentially expressed innate immune genes between P1E1 and P1E2 were much greater compared to relationships between high- and low-performing birds. At the level of phylum, reciprocal correlations between tight junction proteins and Toll-like receptors with Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes were evident, as were correlations at the genus level.

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This research was conducted within the Poultry CRC, established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program. N-LW received a stipend from the University of Adelaide (F J Sandoz Scholarship) and the Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre for PhD studies.

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Correspondence to Nicky-Lee Willson.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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All procedures involving animals were approved by the Animal Ethics committees of the University of Adelaide (approval no. S-2010-080 and S-2011-218) and the Department of Primary Industries and Resources, South Australia (approval no. 08/10 and 25/11).

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Willson, NL., Nattrass, G.S., Hughes, R.J. et al. Correlations between intestinal innate immune genes and cecal microbiota highlight potential for probiotic development for immune modulation in poultry. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 102, 9317–9329 (2018).

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  • Broiler
  • Feed conversion ratio
  • Innate immunity
  • Microbiota