The role of maternal antibodies in the lag phase of Campylobacter positivity, widely observed in commercial broiler flocks, was investigated. The results indicate that 3-wk-old birds derived from a commercial flock are more susceptible to colonization with Campylobacter jejuni than 1-to-2-wk-old birds. This increasing susceptibility parallels the loss of maternally derived, circulating, anti-Campylobacter, immunoglobulin Y antibodies as detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The role of these antibodies in resistance to colonization was further investigated using progeny from breeder flocks of known Campylobacter status. These results confirmed that maternal antibodies confer partial protection against Campylobacter colonization on young chickens (1–2 wk old). This protection was directed against challenge with both homologous and heterologous strains of C. jejuni and even against strains with a high colonization potential. However, evidence presented indicates that newly hatched chicks, with the highest levels of maternal antibodies, were as susceptible to Campylobacter challenge as 3-wk-old birds. This conundrum was investigated further, and an increase in resistance was detected from 1 to 3 days of age. The reasons for this are, as yet, unknown, but the observation validates the use of newly hatched chicks in models of Campylobacter colonization. Moreover, this high susceptibility in the first few days of life may explain the occasional early flock colonization observed, especially when environmental exposure to Campylobacter is high, for example, in free-range birds.
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Vol. 54 • No. 1