Performance and immune responses to dietary beta-glucan in broiler chicks

C M Cox, L H Stuard, S Kim, A P McElroy, M R Bedford, R A Dalloul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the first week posthatch, the avian immune system is immature and inefficient at protecting chicks from invading pathogens. Among immunomodulators, beta-glucans are known as biological response modifiers due to their ability to activate the immune system. Current research suggests that beta-glucans may enhance avian immunity; however, very little is known about their influence on regulation of immune function. A study was performed to evaluate the effects of dietary beta-glucan on growth performance, immune organ weights, peripheral blood cell profiles, and immune-related gene expression in the intestine. One-day-old chicks were fed a diet containing 0, 0.02, or 0.1% yeast beta-glucan (n = 30/treatment). On d 7 and 14 posthatch, body and relative immune organ weights were measured and small intestinal sections were collected to evaluate gene expression by quantitative real-time PCR. Peripheral blood samples were also collected to determine heterophil:lymphocyte ratios. Supplementation of beta-glucan did not significantly affect BW gains, and no significant differences were observed among groups for relative immune organ weights or heterophil:lymphocyte ratios. Compared with controls, expression of interleukin (IL)-8 was downregulated in the beta-glucan-treated groups on d 7 and 14. On d 14, beta-glucan inclusion resulted in increased inducible nitric oxide synthase expression. Expression of IL-18 was upregulated on d 7 but reduced on d 14 due to beta-glucan supplementation. On d 7, interferon-gamma and IL-4 expression decreased in the beta-glucan-treated groups. However, on d 14, IL-4 expression was upregulated in the supplemented groups. Intestinal expression of IL-13 was also downregulated in the beta-glucan-treated birds on d 7. These results suggest that dietary inclusion of beta-glucans altered the cytokine-chemokine balance; however, it did not elicit a robust immune response in the absence of a challenge, resulting in no deleterious effects on performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1924-33
Number of pages10
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010


  • Animal Feed
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Blood Cell Count
  • Chickens
  • Diet
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Interleukin-8
  • Intestines
  • Weight Gain
  • beta-Glucans


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