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The degree of periparturient relaxation of immunity to gastrointestinal parasites has a nutritional basis, as overcoming protein scarcity through increased protein supply improves lactational performance, enhances local immune responses and reduces worm burdens. Herein lactating rats, re-infected with Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, are used to test the hypothesis that a similar and rapid improvement of immunity can be achieved through reducing nutrient demand at times of dietary protein scarcity. Reducing litter size from 12 to three pups during lactation resulted, as expected, in cessation of maternal body weight loss and increased pup body weight gain compared with dams which continued to nurse 12 pups. This increase in performance concurred with a rapid decrease in parasitism; within 3 days post nutrient reduction, a 87% reduction in the number of worm eggs found in the colon and 83% reduction in worm burdens was observed, which concurred with increased local immune responses, i.e. 70% more mast cells and 44% more eosinophils in the small intestinal mucosa, to levels similar to those in dams nursing three pups throughout. However, there were no concurrent changes in goblet cell hyperplasia, serum anti-N. brasiliensis-specific antibody levels or mRNA expression of IL-4, IL-10 or IL-13 in the mesenteric lymph nodes. To our knowledge the current study is the first to employ a litter reduction strategy to assess the rate of immune improvement upon overcoming nutrient scarcity in a non-ruminant host. These data support the hypothesis that periparturient relaxation of immunity to gastrointestinal nematodes can be reduced by restoring nutrient adequacy and, importantly, that this improvement can occur very rapidly.

Original publication





International journal for parasitology

Publication Date





1127 - 1134


Animal Health, Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), Edinburgh, UK.


Colon, Ovum, Feces, Animals, Rats, Nippostrongylus, Body Weight, Parasite Egg Count, Lactation, Pregnancy, Litter Size, Female, Peripartum Period