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Zn serves as a powerful feed additive to reduce post-weaning diarrhoea in pigs. However, the mechanisms responsible for Zn-associated effects on the adaptive immune responses following feeding of a very high dosage of Zn remain elusive. In this study, we examined the T-cell response in gut-associated lymphatic tissues of seventy-two weaned piglets. Piglets received diets with 57 mg Zn/kg (low Zn concentration, LZn), 164 mg Zn/kg (medium Zn concentration, MZn) or 2425 mg Zn/kg (high Zn concentration, HZn) mg Zn/kg feed for 1, 2 or 4 weeks. We observed that feeding the HZn diet for 1 week increased the level of activated T-helper cells (CD4+ and CD8αdim) compared with feeding MZn and LZn (P<0·05). In addition, we observed higher transcript amounts of interferon γ and T-box 21 (TBET) in the HZn group compared with the MZn and LZn groups (P<0·05). A gene set enrichment analysis revealed an over-representation of genes associated with ‘cytokine signalling in immune system’. Remarkably, feeding of a very high Zn dosage led to a switch in the immune response after 2 weeks. We detected higher relative cell counts of CD4+CD25high regulatory T-helper cells (P<0·05) and a higher expression of forkhead box P3 (FOXP3) transcripts (P<0·05). After 4 weeks of feeding a high-dosage Zn diet, the relative CD4+ T-cell count (P<0·05) and the relative CD8β+ T-cell count (P<0·1) were reduced compared with the MZn group. We hypothesise that after 1 week the cellular T-helper 1 response is switched on and after 2 weeks it is switched off, leading to decreased numbers of T-cells.
The prevention of infectious diseases of animals by vaccination has been routinely practiced for decades and has proved to be one of the most cost-effective methods of disease control. However, since the pioneering work of Pasteur in the 1880s, the composition of veterinary vaccines has changed very little from a conceptual perspective and this has, in turn, limited their application in areas such as the control of chronic infectious diseases. New technologies in the areas of vaccine formulation and delivery as well as our increased knowledge of disease pathogenesis and the host responses associated with protection from disease offer promising alternatives for vaccine formulation as well as targets for the prevention of bacterial disease. These new vaccines have the potential to lessen our reliance on antibiotics for disease control, but will only reach their full potential when used in combination with other intervention strategies.
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