The processes of weaning and exposure to pathogenic bacteria induce stress responses, which may alter the metabolism. In this study, we investigated the changes in plasma metabolites and immune responses in piglets in response to the stress induced by weaning and Escherichia coli challenge.
Fecal dry matter decreased (P = 0.003) and nearly half (44.4%) the piglets developed diarrhea on day 2 and 3 postweaning. The concentration of plasma immunoglobulin A was higher (P < 0.001) on day 11 postweaning than on day 0 or 4 postweaning. The levels of white blood cells increased continuously (P < 0.001) from day 0 to day 11 postweaning. Differences in the percentages of neutrophils (P = 0.029) and lymphocytes (P = 0.022) were seen, but the neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio did not differ in the period after weaning. A clear separation of the metabolomic profile data for day 0 and day 4 postweaning was observed with a principal components analysis (PCA) scores plot, and the data for day 11 were located between those for day 0 and day 4 postweaning. The plasma levels of proline, taurine, and carnitine were higher, whereas those of betaine, creatine, L-arginine and acetylcarnitine were lower on day 4 postweaning than on day 0. Levels of lysophosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylcholine were either higher or lower after weaning, depending on the chain lengths or characters of these metabolites.
Our results show a clear separation in the plasma metabolomic profiles of piglets that corresponded to the fecal responses to stress on the piglets induced by weaning or exposure to a pathogen (E. coli). These plasma metabolite profiles suggest that the challenges induced proinflammatory responses in the piglets, resulting in postweaning diarrhea, which was associated with higher concentrations of IgA in the plasma.