This study was carried out to investigate the effects of exposure of growing broiler chickens of commercial origin to used poultry litter on intestinal and systemic immune responses. The litter types evaluated were fresh wood shavings or used litter obtained from commercial poultry farms with or without a history of gangrenous dermatitis (GD). Immune parameters measured were serum nitric oxide (NO) levels, serum antibody titers against Eimeria or Clostridium perfringens, mitogen-induced spleen cell proliferation, and intestinal intraepithelial lymphocyte or splenic lymphocyte subpopulations. At 43 days posthatch, birds raised on used litter from a GD farm had higher serum NO levels and greater Eimeria or C. perfringens antibody levels compared with chickens raised on fresh litter or used, non-GD litter. Birds raised on non-GD and GD used litter had greater spleen cell mitogenic responses compared with chickens raised on fresh litter. Finally, spleen and intestinal lymphocyte subpopulations were increased or decreased depending on the litter type and the surface marker analyzed. Although it is likely that the presence of Eimeria oocysts and endemic viruses varies qualitatively and quantitatively between flocks and, by extension, varies between different used litter types, we believe that these data provide evidence that exposure of growing chicks to used poultry litter stimulates humoral and cell-mediated immune responses, presumably due to contact with contaminating enteric pathogens.
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Vol. 55 • No. 4