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Influence of dietary fibre and protein on gastrointestinal digesta and tissue characteristics and pancreas in the weaned piglet

Diets for weaning piglets can be manipulated for their protein and fibre composition in order to providing substrates to the commensal microflora and decrease pathogenic bacteria and bacterial metabolites detrimental to the gut. Therefore, the influence of diets differing in the protein source and fibre on the gut was investigated in piglets weaned at 28 days of age. Four diets were formulated: a control with high digestible protein and low fibre, a diet with low digestible protein and low fibre content, and two diets with low digestible protein and a high content of either insoluble or soluble fibre, provided with wheat bran and sugar beet pulp, respectively.

These diets were fed for two weeks to piglets according to a balanced incomplete block design. At slaughter, the studied variables included gastrointestinal segmental full and empty weight, ileal flow of digesta, nutrient and mucin, digesta concentration of volatile fatty acids and ammonia, intestinal morphometry and goblet cell histochemistry and finally pancreatic enzyme activities.

The high fibre diets usually increased the weight of gastro-intestinal segment tissues and digesta. The amount of fresh digesta in the ileum was higher with both fibre-rich diets. However, no significant differences between diets were found for ileal dry matter and nitrogen output. The ileal mucin output was higher with the three low digestible-protein diets than with the control, the increase with the insoluble fibre diet being less than with the low fibre or soluble fibre-rich diet.

Fermentation already took place in the ileum, the flow of acetic acid being higher with the soluble fibre diet as compared to the other diets. The ileal flow of valeric and isovaleric acids was also higher with the soluble fibre diet. The fresh contents in the caecum had a pH lower with the soluble fibre diet. Interestingly, both types of fibres were shown to reduce the concentration of ammonia in the caecum.

Conversely, lactic acid concentration in the caecum was higher with the soluble fibre diet, intermediate with the insoluble fibre diet and the lowest with the control and low digestible protein diet. Formic acid concentration in the caecum was reduced with the three diets containing the low digestible protein source. The fibre-rich diets, especially the soluble fibre one, decreased the counts of Clostridium perfringens in the proximal colon.

The ileal mucosa weight and jejunal crypt area were higher with the high soluble fibre diet. Maltase, sucrase and aminopeptidase N jejunal specific activities were lower with the high fibre diets, and ileal aminopeptidase N activity tended to be lower with the high soluble fibre diet. No impact of diet on goblet cell histochemistry in colonic crypts was noted. Pancreas weight, trypsin and amylase activities were higher with the low digestible protein diets.

It is concluded that dietary fibre can modulate gut tissue and digesta mass and composition, influence intestinal epithelial cell proliferation, decrease digestive enzyme activities and stimulate ileal mucin output in the weaned piglet.

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