Low birth weight female piglets show altered intestinal development, gene expression, and epigenetic changes at key developmental loci

Miriam Ayuso, Rachelle Irwin, Colum Walsh, Steven Van Cruchten, Chris Van Ginneken

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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Intestinal development is compromised in low birth weight (LBW) pigs, negatively impacting their growth, health, and resilience. We investigated the molecular mechanisms of the altered intestinal maturation observed in neonatal and juvenile LBW female piglets by comparing the changes in intestinal morphology, gene expression, and methylation in LBW versus normal birth weight (NBW) female piglets. A total of 16 LBW/NBW sibling pairs were sacrificed at 0 hours, 8 hours, 10 days, and 8 weeks of age. The gastrointestinal tract was weighed, measured, and the small intestine was sampled for histomorphology, gene expression, and methylation analyses. Impaired intestinal development, with shorter villi and shallower crypts, was observed in LBW female piglets. The expression of intestinal development markers (ALPI and OLFM) rapidly peaked after birth in NBW but not in LBW female piglets. The lower expression of genes involved in nutrient digestion (ANPEP and SI) and barrier function (OCLN and CLDN4) in LBW, together with their delayed development of intestinal villi and crypts could help to explain the compromised health and growth potential of LBW female piglets. The changes in methylation observed in LBW in key regulators of intestinal development (OLFM4 and FZD5) suggest long-term effects of BW on intestinal gene expression, development, and function. Accordingly, experimental demethylation induced in IPEC-J2 cells led to increased expression of intestinal genes (MGA, DPP4, and GLUT2). Overall, we have identified the alterations in transcription or epigenetic marking at a number of genes critical to intestinal development, which may contribute to both the short- and long-term failure of LBW female piglets to thrive.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21522
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the special research fund of the University of Antwerp Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds (BOF) under grant n° 34479. The research stay abroad that allowed MA to perform gene expression and methylation analyses in the lab of CW was funded by an STSM under the COST Action BM1308 “Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models (SALAAM).” The authors are thankful to Charlotte Vanden Hole, Laura Buyssens, Denise Vogel, Gunther Vrolix, and Katty Huybrechts for their excellent technical assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. The FASEB Journal published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • gene expression
  • gene methylation
  • intestinal development
  • LBW
  • piglet


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