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BackgroundGastrointestinal nematode infection is a major challenge to the health and welfare of mammals. Although mammals eventually acquire immunity to nematodes, this breaks down around parturition, which renders periparturient mammals susceptible to re-infection and an infection source for their offspring. Nutrient supplementation reduces the extent of periparturient parasitism, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we use a genome wide approach to assess the effects of protein supplementation on gene expression in the small intestine of periparturient rats following nematode re-infection.Methodology/principal findingsThe use of a rat whole genome expression microarray (Affymetrix Gene 1.0ST) showed significant differential regulation of 91 genes in the small intestine of lactating rats, re-infected with Nippostrongylus brasiliensis compared to controls; affected functions included immune cell trafficking, cell-mediated responses and antigen presentation. Genes with a previously described role in immune response to nematodes, such as mast cell proteases, and intelectin, and others newly associated with nematode expulsion, such as anterior gradient homolog 2 were identified. Protein supplementation resulted in significant differential regulation of 64 genes; affected functions included protein synthesis, cellular function and maintenance. It increased cell metabolism, evident from the high number of non-coding RNA and the increased synthesis of ribosomal proteins. It regulated immune responses, through T-cell activation and proliferation. The up-regulation of transcription factor forkhead box P1 in unsupplemented, parasitised hosts may be indicative of a delayed immune response in these animals.Conclusions/significanceThis study provides the first evidence for nutritional regulation of genes related to immunity to nematodes at the site of parasitism, during expulsion. Additionally it reveals genes induced following secondary parasite challenge in lactating mammals, not previously associated with parasite expulsion. This work is a first step towards defining disease predisposition, identifying markers for nutritional imbalance and developing sustainable measures for parasite control in domestic mammals.

Original publication





PloS one

Publication Date





Animal Health Group, Scottish Agricultural College, Bush Estate, Penicuik, United Kingdom.


Intestinal Mucosa, Animals, Rats, Nippostrongylus, Strongylida Infections, Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis, Gene Expression Profiling, Nutritional Status, Lactation, Genome