Invited review: the preterm pig as a model in pediatric gastroenterology

J Anim Sci. 2013 Oct;91(10):4713-29. doi: 10.2527/jas.2013-6359. Epub 2013 Aug 13.


At birth, the newborn mammal undergoes a transition from a sterile uterine environment with a constant nutrient supply, to a microbe-rich environment with intermittent oral intake of complex milk nutrients via the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). These functional challenges partly explain the relatively high morbidity and mortality of neonates. Preterm birth interrupts prenatal organ maturation, including that of the GIT, and increases disease risk. Exemplary is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is associated closely with GIT immaturity, enteral feeding, and bacterial colonization. Infants with NEC may require resection of the necrotic parts of the intestine, leading to short bowel syndrome (SBS), characterized by reduced digestive capacity, fluid loss, and dependency on parenteral nutrition. This review presents the preterm pig as a translational model in pediatric gastroenterology that has provided new insights into important pediatric diseases such as NEC and SBS. We describe protocols for delivery, care, and handling of preterm pigs, and show how the immature GIT responds to delivery method and different nutritional and therapeutic interventions. The preterm pig may also provide a sensitive model for postnatal adaptation of weak term piglets showing high mortality. Attributes of the preterm pig model include close similarities with preterm infants in body size, organ development, and many clinical features, thereby providing a translational advantage relative to rodent models of GIT immaturity. On the other hand, the need for a sow surgical facility, a piglet intensive care unit, and clinically trained personnel may limit widespread use of preterm pigs. Studies on organ adaptation in preterm pigs help to identify the physiological basis of neonatal survival for hypersensitive newborns and aid in defining the optimal diet and rearing conditions during the critical neonatal period.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / growth & development*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth*
  • Swine / physiology*