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Poor body condition is associated with lower hippocampal plasticity and higher gut methanogen abundance in adult laying hens from two housing systems

Lookup NU author(s): Elena Armstrong, Dr Jonathan Guy, Dr Timothy Boswell, Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022, The Author(s). It is still unclear which commercial housing system provides the best quality of life for laying hens. In addition, there are large individual differences in stress levels within a system. Hippocampal neurogenesis or plasticity may provide an integrated biomarker of the stressors experienced by an individual. We selected 12 adult hens each with good and poor body condition (based on body size, degree of feather cover and redness of the comb) from a multi-tier free range system containing H&N strain hens, and from an enriched cage system containing Hy-Line hens (n = 48 total). Immature neurons expressing doublecortin (DCX) were quantified in the hippocampus, contents of the caecal microbiome were sequenced, and expression of inflammatory cytokines was measured in the spleen. DCX+ cell densities did not differ between the housing systems. In both systems, poor condition hens had lower DCX+ cell densities, exhibited elevated splenic expression of interleukin-6 (IL6) mRNA, and had a higher relative caecal abundance of methanogenic archea Methanomethylophilaceae. The findings suggest poor body condition is an indicator that individual hens have experienced a comparatively greater degree of cumulative chronic stress, and that a survey of the proportion of hens with poor body conditions might be one way to evaluate the impact of housing systems on hen welfare.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Armstrong EA, Richards-Rios P, Addison L, Sandilands V, Guy JH, Wigley P, Boswell T, Smulders TV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2022

Volume: 12

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 15/09/2022

Acceptance date: 13/08/2022

Date deposited: 06/10/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2045-2322

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-18504-1

PubMed id: 36109559


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Funder referenceFunder name
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare