Runting stunting syndrome (RSS) in broiler chickens is characterized by altered intestinal morphology and gene expression and stunted growth. The objective of this study was to conduct a retrospective study of gene expression in stem and differentiated cells in the small intestine of RSS chicks. Two different models of RSS were analyzed: broiler chicks that were experimentally infected and broiler chicks that were naturally infected. Experimentally infected chicks were exposed to litter from infected flocks (RSS-litter chicks) or infected with astrovirus (RSS-astrovirus chicks). Intestinal samples from naturally infected chicks showing clinical signs of RSS were acquired from commercial farms in Georgia and were brought into a poultry diagnostic lab (RSS-clinical-GA) and from farms in Brazil that had a history of RSS (RSS-clinical-BR). The RSS-clinical-BR chicks were separated into those that were positive or negative for gallivirus based on DNA sequencing. Intestinal morphology and intestinal cell type were identified in archived formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues. In situ hybridization for cell-specific mRNA was used to identify intestinal stem cells expressing olfactomedin 4 (Olfm4), proliferating cells expressing Ki67, absorptive cells expressing sodium glucose cotransporter 1 (SGLT1) and peptide transporter 1 (PepT1), and goblet cells expressing mucin 2 (Muc2). RSS-litter and RSS-clinical-GA chicks showed 4% to 7.5% cystic crypts, while gallivirus-positive RSS-clinical-BR chicks showed 11.7% cystic crypts. RSS-astrovirus and gallivirus-negative RSS-clinical-BR chicks showed few cystic crypts. RSS-litter and gallivirus-positive RSS-clinical-BR chicks showed an increase in crypt depth compared to control or gallivirus-negative chicks, respectively. There was no expression of Olfm4 mRNA in the stem cells of RSS-litter and RSS-clinical-GA chicks, in contrast to the normal expression of Olfm4 mRNA in RSS-astrovirus and RSS-clinical-BR chicks. All chicks regardless of infection status showed normal expression of Ki67 mRNA in crypt cells, Muc2 mRNA in goblet cells, and SGLT1 or PepT1 mRNA in enterocytes. These results demonstrate that RSS, which can be induced by different etiologies, can show differences in the expression of the stem cell marker Olfm4.
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Vol. 66 • No. 1