Chronic lead exposure induces histopathological damage, microbiota dysbiosis and immune disorder in the cecum of female Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica)

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2019 Nov 15;183:109588. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2019.109588. Epub 2019 Aug 23.


Lead (Pb) is one of the most hazardous metals to human and wildlife and it also has multiple negative impacts on birds. However, its influences on bird gut morphology and intestinal microbiota were still unclear. We used female Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica) to examine the effects of chronic lead exposure (0, 50 ppm and 1000 ppm) on cecal histology, microbial communities and immune function. The results showed 50 ppm lead exposure caused subtle damages of cecum cell structure. However, 1000 ppm lead exposure caused severe cecum histopathological changes characterized by mucosa abscission, Lieberkühn glands destruction and lymphocyte proliferation. Moreover, both lead concentrations induced ultrastructural damages featured by nucleus pyknosis, mitochondrial vacuolation and microvilli contraction. Meanwhile, microbial community structure, species diversity, taxonomic compositions and taxa abundance in the cecum were affected by lead exposure. Furthermore, the mRNA relative expression of immunity-related genes such as interleukin 2 (IL-2) and gamma interferon (IFN-γ) was significantly downregulated while that of interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) and natural killer kappa B (NF-κB) was significantly upregulated in the cecum of 50 and 1000 ppm lead exposure groups. We concluded that lead exposure may cause gut health impairment of female Japanese quails by inducing cecal histopathological changes, microbiota dysbiosis and cecal immune disorder.

Keywords: Cecum; Histopathology; Immunity; Japanese quails; Lead; Microbiota.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cecum / drug effects*
  • Cecum / immunology
  • Cecum / microbiology
  • Cecum / pathology
  • Coturnix / immunology*
  • Coturnix / microbiology*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dysbiosis / chemically induced*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Lead / toxicity*


  • Cytokines
  • Lead