Pre-natal social stress and post-natal pain affect the developing pig reproductive axis

Cheryl J Ashworth, Charis O Hogg, Cindy W F Hoeks, Ramona D Donald, W Colin Duncan, Alistair B Lawrence, Kenny M D Rutherford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study assessed the effect of pre-natal social stress and post-natal pain on the reproductive development of young (approximately day 40) pigs. Male pigs carried by sows that were stressed by mixing with unfamiliar older sows for two 1-week periods during mid-pregnancy had lower plasma testosterone (0.54 vs 0.86 ng/ml, s.e.d.=0.11; P=0.014) and oestradiol (E(2); 22.9 vs 38.7 pg/ml, s.e.d.=7.80; P=0.021) concentrations compared with males carried by unstressed control sows. Although there was no effect of pre-natal stress on female E(2) concentrations, female pigs carried by stressed sows had fewer primordial ovarian follicles (log -4.32/mum(2) vs -4.00/mum(2), s.e.d.=0.136; P=0.027). Tail amputation on day 3 after birth reduced E(2) concentrations in female (4.78 vs 6.84 pg/ml, s.e.d.=0.86; P=0.03) and in male (25.6 vs 34.9 pg/ml, s.e.d.=3.56; P=0.021) pigs and reduced both testis weight (0.09% of body weight vs 0.10% of body weight, s.e.d.=0.003; P=0.01) and the percentage of proliferating Leydig cells (1.97 vs 2.12, s.e.d.=0.114; P=0.036) compared with sham-amputated littermate controls. There was a significant (P=0.036) interaction between the effects of pre-natal stress and post-natal pain on testicular expression of the steroidogenic enzyme 17alpha-hydroxylase, such that amputation increased expression in pigs born to control sows, but reduced expression in animals born to stressed sows. This study shows that stressful procedures associated with routine animal husbandry can disrupt the developing reproductive axis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-914
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


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