1UR83 Recherches Avicoles, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Nouzilly, France.
Egg defence against bacterial contamination relies on immunoglobulins (IgY) concentrated in the yolk and antimicrobial peptides/proteins predominantly localized in the egg white (EW). Hens contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms export specific IgYs to the egg (adaptative immunity). No evidence of such regulation has been reported for the antimicrobial peptides/proteins (innate immunity) which are preventively secreted by the hen oviduct and are active against a large range of microbes. We investigated whether the egg innate defences can be stimulated by the environmental microbial contamination by comparing the antimicrobial activity of EW of hens raised in three extreme breeding conditions: Germ-free (GF), Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) and Conventional (C) hens.
The difference in the immunological status of GF, SPF and C hens was confirmed by the high stimulation of IL-1β, IL-8 and TLR4 genes in the intestine of C and SPF groups. EW from C and SPF groups demonstrated higher inhibitory effect against Staphylococcus aureus (13 to 18%) and against Streptococcus uberis (31 to 35%) as compared to GF but showed similar activity against Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Gallinarum, Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes. To further investigate these results, we explored putative changes amongst the three main mechanisms of egg antimicrobial defence: the sequestration of bacterial nutrients, the inactivation of exogenous proteases and the direct lytic action on microorganisms. Lysozyme activity, chymotrypsin-, trypsin- and papain-inhibiting potential of EW and the expression of numerous antimicrobial genes were not stimulated suggesting that these are not responsible for the change in anti-S. aureus and anti-S. uberis activity. Moreover, whereas the expression levels of IL-1β, IL-8 and TLR4 genes were modified by the breeding conditions in the intestine of C and SPF groups they were not modified in the magnum where egg white is formed.
Altogether, these data revealed that the degree of environmental microbial exposure of the hen moderately stimulated the egg innate defence, by reinforcing some specific antimicrobial activities to protect the embryo and to insure hygienic quality of table eggs.