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  • Open Access

Morphology, Proliferation and Apoptosis of the Intestine as well as Metabolic and Endocrine Traits in Preterm and Term Calves

  • 1,
  • 1 and
  • 1
Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica200344 (Suppl 1) :P104

  • Published:


  • Glucagon
  • Crypt Cell
  • Normal Term
  • Villus Height
  • Crypt Depth

A considerable number of calves is born prematurely. Morbidity and mortality of preterm calves are higher than of calves born at normal term. Besides insufficient functioning of the lungs, immaturities of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and of endocrine control of metabolism are thought to contribute to health problems. Because corresponding studies are lacking in preterm calves, we have tested the hypothesis that there are differences in maturation at birth and in response to feeding for 8 d of the GIT and of metabolic and endocrine traits between term and preterm calves. Fourteen calves were born on d 275 of gestation, i.e. 42 ± 3 h after dams were injected 0.5 mg prostaglandin and 5 mg Flumethason, and were slaughtered either on d 1 (GrPS, n = 7) or on d 8 GrPF, n = 7) of F life. Another 14 calves, serving as control, were spontanously born after normal lengths of pregnancy (290 ± 2 d) and were slaughtered either on d 1 (GrNS, n = 7) before first feeding or on d 8 (GrNF, n = 7) of life. The 8 d old preterm and term calves were fed colostrum and then mature milk. Blood samples were taken from jugular veins to measure blood gases, hematologic, metabolic and endocrine traits. Histomorphometrical analyses of duodenum, jejunum, ileum and colon were performed on slides stained with hematoxilin and eosin. Cell proliferation was based on counting crypt cells which (following injection of 500 μg 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine 1 h before slaughter) had incorporated this substance into DNA and relative to unlabeled epithelial cells and as relative to the length of the mucosal epithelial layer. Apoptotic cells were visualized based on terminal transferase 3' end labelling by fluorescence microscopy. Results: The pH was lower (P < 0.05) in GrPS than in GrPF. Mean pCO2 tended to be higher (P < 0.05) in GrPS versus GrNS, and tended to be higher (P < 0.1) in GrPS than in GrPF. There were no group differences in pO2, base excess, HCO3, TCO2, and sO2. Haematological traits were always in physiological range and barely differed between term and preterm calves. Blood plasma concentrations of metabolites (protein, immunoglobulin G, albumin, urea, creatinine, non-esterified fatty acids, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, lactate) and hormones (growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1, 3.5.3'-triiodothyronine and thyroxine, cortisol, insulin, glucagon) and patterns of postnatal changes in preterm calves were in the same range as in calves born at normal term. In jejunum villus circumferences, areas and heights were greater (P < 0.001) in GrNS than in GrNF and GrPS. Villus circumferences and villus heights in ileum were greater (P < 0.05) in GrNS than in GrNF. Crypt depths in duodenum, jejunum, ileum and colon were greater (P < 0.001) in GrNF than in GrNS and GrPF. Villus circumferences, areas and heights were greatest in jejunum, whereas colon had the greatest crypt depths. Number of BrdU-labeled cells in duodenum and jejunum were higher (P < 0.05) in GrNF than in GrNS. Number of BrdU-labeled cells in duodenum and number of BrdU-labeled cells per length in jejunum were higher (P < 0.01), as well as number of BrdU-labeled cells per length in ileum tended to be higher (P < 0.1) in GrNF than GrPF. Apoptotic cells were present in the submucosa (including Peyer Patches), but no small gut epithelial apoptic cells were detectable. However, it was surprising that GrNS had greater villi than GrNF, whereas GrNF had highest epithelial proliferation rates. The much greater crypt depths in GrNF than GrNS indicated that crypt depth was more markedly affected by feeding than villus height in the mature intestine, but preterm calves did not show these effect. In conclusion, calves born 2 wk before normal term are basically able to sucessfully control their metabolism and their endocrine patterns as normal term calves. However, the intestinal tract in preterm calves is immature and the reaction to feed ingestion was reduced, even though preterm calves were obviously able to utilize ingested nutrients.

Authors’ Affiliations

Div. of Nutrition and Physiology, Inst. of Animal Genetics, Nutrition and Housing, University of Berne, CH-3012 Berne, Switzerland


© The Author(s); licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2003

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.