Effects of orally administered galacto-oligosaccharides on immunological parameters in foals: a pilot study

JC Vendrig, Luc Coffeng, J Fink-Gremmels

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In the first phase of life, in which the immune system is primed and the bacterial colonization of epithelial surfaces takes place, foals are highly susceptible to bacterial infections. Next to strategies to optimize maternally acquired immunity in individual foals, current research explores other options to modulate immune responses in foals. During the past decades, oligosaccharide supplements were developed to mimic beneficial properties of the oligosaccharides, which are present in colostrum and milk. In human infants and laboratory animal species, dietary supplementation with galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) has been shown to result in prebiotic and immunomodulating effects, with long-term beneficial consequences for both defensive and allergic immune responses. As yet, no studies are published concerning the in vivo effects of GOS in horses. The current study was designed as a pilot study to investigate the effects of an orally applied, commercially available GOS product in a group of pony foals. The treatment and the control group consisted of six and four foals, respectively. Foals were treated during the first four weeks of life and subsequently followed up for another ten weeks. Results: In peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) derived from GOS-treated foals at day 28, a standardized lipopolysaccharide challenge resulted in significantly lower relative mRNA expression levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interferon-gamma and interleukin-6 compared with PBMCs of control foals. In the 98-day period of investigation, no significant effects of the GOS supplement were observed on clinical and blood parameters for immunity and general health in these foals. Conclusions: Based on these first results, we can conclude that this dose regimen of GOS was well accepted by the foals and did not result in any detectable undesirable side effects. More clinical trials are required to confirm the attenuating effects of GOS treatment on equine pro-inflammatory immune responses and to implement this into practice.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalBMC Veterinary Research
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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