Free Access
Reprod. Nutr. Dev.
Volume 45, Number 1, January-February 2005
Page(s) 109 - 122
Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 45 (2005) 109-122
DOI: 10.1051/rnd:2005008

An early stimulation of solid feed intake slightly influences the morphological gut maturation in the rabbit

Mélanie Galloisa, Thierry Gidennea, Laurence Fortun-Lamothea, Isabelle Le Huerou-Luronb and Jean-Paul Lallèsb

a  Station de Recherches Cunicoles, INRA, BP 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
b  INRA, UMR SENAH, Système d'élevage, Nutrition Animale et Humaine, 35590 St Gilles, France

(Received 20 September 2004; accepted 6 December 2004)

Abstract - The impact of dietary factors on the gut morphological maturation is poorly documented in rabbits. The weights of the digestive segments as well as the morphology of villi and crypts along the small intestine were analysed weekly from day 14 till day 49, in two rabbit groups weaned at either 21 (W21 group, n = 12 litters) or 35 days (W35 group, n = 12 litters) of age. From 21 till 35 days, the W21 group ate 57% more solid feed than the W35 group (P < 0.01), and presented slighter body weights from day 28 till day 49 (-9%, P < 0.05). Tissue weights of the empty digestive segments, as expressed relative to the body weights, were higher in the W21 than in the W35 group from day 28 till day 49 (P < 0.001), whereas absolute tissue weights appeared similar (except for the proximal colon). From day 28 to day 49, small intestinal villi grew in height and surface area (P < 0.05) whereas the crypts deepened. Villous height followed a proximo-distal decreasing gradient from the duodenum to the ileum (P < 0.05) from day 28 onward. The villous height to width ratio changed with the beginning of significant solid feed intake: from a thin shape until day 21, villi became wider from day 28 on. The effect of weaning age on mucosal morphology was insignificant, except for the jejunal crypts whose surface area and depth were higher in the W21 group. The present results showed that morphological changes in the digestive tract of young rabbits were weakly influenced by an early stimulation of solid feed intake.

Key words: gut maturation / rabbit / weaning / intestinal morphology / digestive mucosa

Corresponding author: Thierry Gidenne

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2005