PloS one

Comprehensive growth performance, immune function, plasma biochemistry, gene expressions and cell death morphology responses to a daily corticosterone injection course in broiler chickens.

PMID 28235061


The massive meat production of broiler chickens make them continuously exposed to potential stressors that stimulate releasing of stress-related hormones like corticosterone (CORT) which is responsible for specific pathways in biological mechanisms and physiological activities. Therefore, this research was conducted to evaluate a wide range of responses related to broiler performance, immune function, plasma biochemistry, related gene expressions and cell death morphology during and after a 7-day course of CORT injection. A total number of 200 one-day-old commercial Cobb broiler chicks were used in this study. From 21 to 28 d of age, broilers were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups with 5 replicates of 20 birds each; the first group received a daily intramuscular injection of 5 mg/kg BW corticosterone dissolved in 0.5 ml ethanol:saline solution (CORT group), while the second group received a daily intramuscular injection of 0.5 ml ethanol:saline only (CONT group). Growth performance, including body weight (BW), daily weight gain (DG), feed intake (FI) and feed conversion ratio (FC), were calculated at 0, 3 and 7 d after the start of the CORT injections. At the same times, blood samples were collected in each group for hematological (TWBC's and H/L ratio), T- and B-lymphocytes proliferation and plasma biochemical assays (total protein, TP; free triiodothyronine hormone, fT3; aspartate amino transaminase, AST; and alanine amino transaminase, ALT). The liver, thymus, bursa of Fabricius and spleen were dissected and weighed, and the mRNA expression of insulin-like growth factor 1 gene (IGF-1) in liver and cell-death-program gene (caspase-9) in bursa were analyzed for each group and time; while the apoptotic/necrotic cells were morphologically detected in the spleen. From 28 to 35 d of age, broilers were kept for recovery period without CORT injection and the same sampling and parameters were repeated at the end (at 14 d after initiation of the CORT injection). In general, all parameters of broiler performance were negatively affected by the CORT injection. In addition, CORT treatment decreased the plasma concentration of fT3 and the mRNA expression of hepatic IGF-1. A significant increase in liver weight accompanied by an increase in plasma TP, AST and ALT was observed with CORT treatment, indicating an incidence of liver malfunction by CORT. Moreover, the relative weights of thymus, bursa and spleen decreased by the CORT treatment with low counts of TWBC's and low stimulation of T & B cells while the H/L ratio increased; indicating immunosuppressive effect for CORT treatment. Furthermore, high expression of caspase-9 gene occurred in the bursa of CORT-treated chickens, however, it was associated with a high necrotic vs. low apoptotic cell death pathway in the spleen. Seven days after termination of the CORT treatment in broilers, most of these aspects remained negatively affected by CORT and did not recover to its normal status. The current study provides a comprehensive view of different physiological modulations in broiler chickens by CORT treatment and may set the potential means to mount a successful defense against stress in broilers and other animals as well.