Tel.+49 30 838 52256 Fax.+49 30 838-55938
The trace element zinc is often used in the diet of weaned piglets, as high doses have resulted in positive effects on intestinal health. However, the majority of previous studies evaluated zinc supplementations for a short period only and focused on the small intestine. The hypothesis of the present study was that low, medium and high levels of dietary zinc (57, 164 and 2,425 mg Zn/kg from zinc oxide) would affect colonic morphology and innate host defense mechanisms across 4 weeks post-weaning. Histological examinations were conducted regarding the colonic morphology and neutral, acidic, sialylated and sulphated mucins. The mRNA expression levels of mucin (MUC) 1, 2, 13, 20, toll-like receptor (TLR) 2, 4, interleukin (IL)-1β, 8, 10, interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) were also measured. The colonic crypt area increased in an age-depending manner, and the greatest area was found with medium concentration of dietary zinc. With the high concentration of dietary zinc, the number of goblet cells containing mixed neutral-acidic mucins and total mucins increased. Sialomucin containing goblet cells increased age-dependently. The expression of MUC2 increased with age and reached the highest level at 47 days of age. The expression levels of TLR2 and 4 decreased with age. The mRNA expression of TLR4 and the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-8 were down-regulated with high dietary zinc treatment, while piglets fed with medium dietary zinc had the highest expression. It is concluded that dietary zinc level had a clear impact on colonic morphology, mucin profiles and immunological traits in piglets after weaning. Those changes might support local defense mechanisms and affect colonic physiology and contribute to the reported reduction of post-weaning diarrhea.