The effects of changes in nutritional demand on gastrointestinal parasitism in lactating rats
Lactating rats experience a breakdown of immunity to parasites, i.e. they carry larger worm burdens after re-infection compared to their non-lactating counterparts. Feeding high-protein foods to lactating rats results in reduced worm burdens. This could be attributed to changes in gastrointestinal environment or to overcoming effects of nutrient scarcity on host immunity. The latter hypothesis was addressed through a manipulation of nutrient demand by manipulating litter size. Twenty-three rats were immunized prior to mating and re-infected on day 2 of lactation with 1600 infective Nippostrongylus brasiliensis larvae. From parturition onwards, rats received ad libitum a low-protein food (100 g crude protein/kg). Litter sizes were standardised to nine (LS9), six (LS6) or three (LS3) pups, by day 2 of lactation. After a further 10d, LS9 and LS6 rats carried more worms than LS3 rats. However, feeding treatments did not affect concentrations of mucosal inflammatory cells. Achieved feed intake did not differ consistently between the treatment groups. However, LS9 and LS6 rats lost weight, whilst LS3 rats gained weight during lactation. The results support the view that resistance to N. brasiliensis is sensitive to changes in nutrient demand, and the improved resistance to N. brasiliensis is likely due to effects of overcoming nutrient scarcity on host immunity.