Pig peripheral blood mononuclear leucocyte subsets are heritable and genetically correlated with performance

M. Clapperton, E. J. Glass, S. C. Bishop

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Indicator traits used to select pigs for increased resistance to infection or improved health must be heritable and, preferably, be associated with improved performance. We estimated the heritability of a range of immune traits and their genetic and phenotypic correlations with growth performance. We measured immune traits on 589 pigs and performance on 1941 pigs from six farms, three of which were classified as 'high health status' (i.e. specific pathogen-free) and three were of lower health status. All pigs were apparently healthy. Immune traits were total white blood cells (WBC), and peripheral blood mononuclear leucocyte (PBML) subsets positive for CD4, CD8 alpha, gamma delta (gamma delta) T cell receptor, CD11R1 (natural killer cell marker), B cell and monocyte markers at the start and the end of standard growth performance tests. At both time points, all immune traits were moderately to highly heritable except for CD8 alpha(+) cells. At end of test, heritability estimates (h(2)) (+/- s.e.) were 0.18 (+/- 0.11) for total WBC count. For PBML subset proportions, the heritabilities were 0.52 (+/- 0.14) for gamma delta TCR cells, 0.62 (+/- 0.14) for CD4(+) cells, 0.44 (+/- 0.14) for CD11R1(+) cells, 0.58 (+/- 0.14) for B cells and 0.59 (+/- 0.14) for monocytes. Farm health status affected the heritabilities for WBC, being substantially higher on lower health status farms, but did not have consistent effects on heritabilities for the PBML subsets. There were significant negative genetic correlations between numbers and proportions of various PBML subsets and performance, at both start and end of test. In particular, the proportion of PBML cells that were CD11R1(+) cells, at end of test, was strongly correlated with daily gain (r(g) = -0.72; P < 0.01). There were also weaker but significant negative phenotypic correlations between PBML subsets measured at end of test and performance, for gamma delta(+) T cells, CD8 alpha(+), CD11R1(+) cells, B cells or monocytes. Phenotypic correlations with daily gain were generally lower at the start of test than at the end of test. These results show that most of the major pig PBML subsets are heritable, and that systemic levels of several of these PBML subsets are genetically negatively correlated with performance. This approach provides a basis for using immune trait markers when selecting boars that can produce higher-performing progeny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1575-1584
Number of pages10
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • pigs
  • Innate immunity
  • Performance
  • heritability
  • NK cells


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