Acute heat stress impairs performance parameters and induces mild intestinal enteritis in broiler chickens: role of acute hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation

J Anim Sci. 2012 Jun;90(6):1986-94. doi: 10.2527/jas.2011-3949. Epub 2012 Jan 6.


Studies on the environmental consequences of stress are relevant for economic and animal welfare reasons. We recently reported that long-term heat stressors (31 ± 1°C and 36 ± 1°C for 10 h/d) applied to broiler chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) from d 35 to 42 of life increased serum corticosterone concentrations, decreased performance variables and the macrophage oxidative burst, and produced mild, multifocal acute enteritis. Being cognizant of the relevance of acute heat stress on tropical and subtropical poultry production, we designed the current experiment to analyze, from a neuroimmune perspective, the effects of an acute heat stress (31 ± 1°C for 10 h on d 35 of life) on serum corticosterone, performance variables, intestinal histology, and peritoneal macrophage activity in chickens. We demonstrated that the acute heat stress increased serum corticosterone concentrations and mortality and decreased food intake, BW gain, and feed conversion (P < 0.05). We did not find changes in the relative weights of the spleen, thymus, and bursa of Fabricius (P > 0.05). Increases in the basal and the Staphylococcus aureus-induced macrophage oxidative bursts and a decrease in the percentage of macrophages performing phagocytosis were also observed. Finally, mild, multifocal acute enteritis, characterized by the increased presence of lymphocytes and plasmocytes within the lamina propria of the jejunum, was also observed. We found that the stress-induced hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation was responsible for the negative effects observed on chicken performance and immune function as well as for the changes in the intestinal mucosa. The data presented here corroborate with those presented in other studies in the field of neuroimmunomodulation and open new avenues for the improvement of broiler chicken welfare and production performance.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Enteritis / etiology
  • Enteritis / veterinary*
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Housing, Animal
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Lymphoid Tissue / pathology
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Poultry Diseases / etiology
  • Poultry Diseases / pathology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*


  • Corticosterone