Antimicrobials, Gut Microbiota and Immunity in Chickens

  • Lee, Kyung-Woo (Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, Agricultural Research Service, USDA) ;
  • Lillehoj, Hyun S. (Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, Agricultural Research Service, USDA)
  • Received : 2011.03.08
  • Accepted : 2011.04.27
  • Published : 2011.06.30


The use of antimicrobials will be soon removed due to an increase of occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or ionophore-resistant Eimeria species in poultry farms and consumers' preference on drug-free chicken meats or eggs. Although dietary antimicrobials contributed to the growth and health of the chickens, we do not fully understand their interrelationship among antimicrobials, gut microbiota, and host immunity in poultry. In this review, we explored the current understanding on the effects of antimicrobials on gut microbiota and immune systems of chickens. Based on the published literatures, it is clear that antibiotics and antibiotic ionophores, when used singly or in combination could influence gut microbiota. However, antimicrobial effect on gut microbiota varied depending on the samples (e.g., gut locations, digesta vs. mucosa) used and among the experiments. It was noted that the digesta vs. the mucosa is the preferred sample with the results of no change, increase, or decrease in gut microbiota community. In future, the mucosa-associated bacteria should be targeted as they are known to closely interact with the host immune system and pathogen control. Although limited, dietary antimicrobials are known to modulate humoral and cell-mediated immunities. Ironically, the evidence is increasing that dietary antimicrobials may play an important role in triggering enteric disease such as gangrenous dermatitis, a devastating disease in poultry industry. Future work should be done to unravel our understanding on the complex interaction of host-pathogen-microbiota-antimicrobials in poultry.


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