Poor body condition is associated with lower hippocampal plasticity and higher gut methanogen abundance in adult laying hens from two housing systems

Elena A. Armstrong*, P Richard-Rios, L Addision, V Sandilands, Jonathan H Guy, Paul Wigley, Timothy Boswell, Tom V. Smulders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

It is still unclear which commercial housing system provides the best quality of life for laying hens. In addition, there are large individual differences in stress levels within a system. Hippocampal neurogenesis or plasticity may provide an integrated biomarker of the stressors experienced by an individual. We selected 12 adult hens each with good and poor body condition (based on body size, degree of feather cover and redness of the comb) from a multi-tier free range system containing H&N strain hens, and from an enriched cage system containing Hy-Line hens (n = 48 total). Immature neurons expressing doublecortin (DCX) were quantified in the hippocampus, contents of the caecal microbiome were sequenced, and expression of inflammatory cytokines was measured in the spleen. DCX + cell densities did not differ between the housing systems. In both systems, poor condition hens had lower DCX + cell densities, exhibited elevated splenic expression of interleukin-6 (IL6) mRNA, and had a higher relative caecal abundance of methanogenic archea Methanomethylophilaceae. The findings suggest poor body condition is an indicator that individual hens have experienced a comparatively greater degree of cumulative chronic stress, and that a survey of the proportion of hens with poor body conditions might be one way to evaluate the impact of housing systems on hen welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15505
Number of pages20
JournalScientific Reports
Volume12
Early online date15 Sep 2022
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 15 Sep 2022

Keywords

  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Chickens/physiology
  • Doublecortin Domain Proteins
  • Female
  • Hippocampus
  • Housing, Animal
  • Interleukin-6
  • Quality of Life
  • RNA, Messenger

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