Feed intake alters immune cell functions and ovarian infiltration in broiler hens: implications for reproductive performance

Biol Reprod. 2014 Jun;90(6):134. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.113.115824. Epub 2014 May 14.


Leukocytes are known to participate in ovarian activities in several species, but there is a surprising lack of information for the common chicken. Broiler hens consuming feed ad libitum (AL) exhibit a number of ovarian irregularities, but leukocyte functions are unstudied. In contrast to feed-restricted (R) hens, AL feeding for 7 wk significantly reduced egg production and clutch length while increasing pause length and atretic follicle numbers (P < 0.05). Granulosa cells from F1 follicles of AL hens contained less progesterone, and follicle walls were thicker with loose fibrous morphology and had less collagenase-3-like gelatinolytic activity but more IL-1beta (P < 0.05) production, suggestive of slower maturation in ovulatory process and inflamed necrosis. Interestingly, while highly infiltrated with immune cells, particularly heterophils, IL-1beta, MMP-22-like, and gelatinase A activities were reduced in AL hen peripheral heterophils and monocytes (P < 0.05); however, AL monocytes showed an increase in phagocytosis rate (P < 0.05). Generation of reactive oxygen intermediates was also suppressed in AL heterophils but increased in AL monocytes (P < 0.05). In contrast to leukocyte-free control, both AL and R heterophils and monocytes suppressed progesterone production and increased cell death in a dose-dependent manner when coincubated with granulosa cells at different ratios (P < 0.05). AL monocytes suppressed progesterone production more, but AL heterophils were less proapoptotic when compared to their R counterparts (P < 0.05). Alterations of cellular ceramide content (P < 0.05) corresponded to the discrepancy between heterophil and monocyte functionality. In conclusion, leukocyte dysfunction contributes to impaired ovarian activities of overfed broiler hens.

Keywords: broiler hens; ceramide; immune cells; matrix metalloproteinases; obesity; ovary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Chickens / immunology*
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Eating / immunology
  • Female
  • Granulosa Cells / immunology
  • Granulosa Cells / metabolism
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Leukocytes / immunology*
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 13 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 / metabolism
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Obesity / immunology*
  • Ovarian Follicle / immunology
  • Ovarian Follicle / metabolism
  • Ovary / immunology*
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • Progesterone / metabolism
  • Reproduction / immunology*
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism


  • Ceramides
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Progesterone
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 13
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2