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Intestinal Lining Integrity

About the Intestinal Integrity (Barrier Function) of Production Animals

The intestinal integrity of production animals, also referred to as the intestinal barrier function, is one of the three gears to ensuring the all-over health of an animal’s intestines, and ultimately its health in general.

The role of the Intestinal Integrity/Barrier

The intestine is constantly exposed and challenged by a large population (101 bacteria) of bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiota. The intestinal wall forms a physical barrier keeping the intestinal microbiota in the intestinal lumen and out of the animal’s body, while still allowing for the absorption of nutrients into the body. This barrier is made up by a single layer of cells called intestinal enterocytes. Intestinal enterocytes are bound together by transmembrane proteins, called intestinal tight junction proteins. These tight junction proteins prevent the translocation of toxins and bacteria across the intestinal epithelium. Nutrients move across the intestinal epithelium into the enterocytes and are absorbed.

A mucous layer that lines the intestinal epithelium further protects the intestinal barrier.

Factors that negatively influence the Intestinal Integrity of production animals

The modern production of livestock can expose production animals to a number of risks that negatively influence the integrity of the intestinal barrier:

  • Proliferation of enteric pathogens for example CoccidiaClostridium perfringesE. coliCampylobacter and Salmonella cause inflammation of the intestinal epithelium that will result in the disruption of the intestinal barrier.
  • Stress factors for example handling, transportation, overcrowding, heat, lack of feed or water etc. can suppress the immune system and affect blood supply to the intestine resulting in the disruption of the intestinal barrier.
  • Feed toxins can result in intestinal inflammation causing the disruption of the intestinal barrier.
  • Dietary factors that lower the digestion of the feed can result in the proliferation of intestinal pathogens resulting in bacterial enteritis.

An animal’s well-being and production is therefore heavily reliant on the integrity of the intestinal wall (intestinal barrier) as any disruption of the intestinal barrier will result in losses of animal production and efficiency.

Butyric Acid and Intestinal Integrity

Butyric acid is a fatty acid naturally produced in the large intestine (caecum and colon) of monogastric animals. It is produced by the intestinal microbiome from the fermentation of dietary fibres.

Up to 70% of the energy requirements of the intestinal enterocytes (the single layer cells that make up the intestinal barrier) is derived from the metabolism of butyric acid, which is directly absorbed from the intestinal lumen.

  • The development, maturation and differentiation of intestinal enterocytes are regulated by butyric acid.
  • Butyric acid enhances the production and translocation of intestinal tight junction proteins and the production of mucous.
  • Butyric acid increases antioxidant levels to promote healing in the GI tract, suppresses the production of pro inflammatory cytokines and upregulates the production of heat shock proteins.
  • Butyric acid increases epithelial proliferation and host defence peptides.
  • Butyric acid therefore stimulates the development of the intestinal barrier function and is important for the maintenance of the intestinal barrier by controlling intestinal inflammation and mitigating the effects of heat stress on intestinal enterocytes.

Disruptions in the intestinal barrier (decreased integrity) can lead to the development of “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and result in a decrease in animals’ performance and high economic losses.