Dietary protein and energy supplies differentially affect resistance to parasites in lactating mammals
Periparturient relaxation of immunity (PPRI) to parasites in mammals results in higher worm burden and worm egg excretion and may have a nutritional basis. Nippostrongylus brasiliensis re-infected lactating rats fed low-crude protein (CP) diets show an augmented degree of PPRI compared with their high CP-fed counterparts. However, such effects of CP scarcity have been confounded by metabolisable energy (ME) scarcity due to increased intake of the high-CP foods. Here, we independently assessed the effects of dietary CP and ME scarcity on the degree of PPRI. Second, parity rats were infected with N. brasiliensis larvae before mating. Upon parturition, dams were allocated to one of six feeding treatments (1-6), consisting of two levels of dietary ME supply, each with three levels of CP supply. On day 2 of lactation, dams were either re-infected with 1600 N. brasiliensis larvae or sham-infected with PBS, while litter size was standardised at ten pups. Dams and litters were weighed daily until either day 8 or 11 of lactation, when worm burdens were assessed as a proxy for PPRI. Increased CP and ME supply independently improved lactational performance. While ME supply did not affect parasitism, increasing CP supply reduced worm burden and the percentage of female worms in the small intestine; the latter was especially pronounced at the lower level of ME supply. The present results support the view that PPRI to parasites may be sensitive to CP scarcity, but not to moderate ME scarcity.