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Department of Animal Sciences
The Robert H. Smith Faculty
of Agricultural, Food & Environment

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Wong, E. A. ; Uni, Z. Centennial Review: The chicken yolk sac is a multifunctional organ. POULTRY SCIENCE 2021, 100.Abstract
The yolk sac (YS) consists of the yolk, which supplies nutrients, and the YS tissue, which surrounds the yolk and provides essential metabolic functions for the developing embryo. The YS tissue is derived from the midgut of the embryo and consists of a layer of endodermal epithelial cells (EEC) in contact with the yolk contents, a mesodermal layer that contains the vascular system and an outer ectodermal layer. The YS tissue is a multifunctional organ that provides essential functions such as host immunity, nutrient uptake, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, and erythropoiesis. The YS tissue plays a role in immunity by the transport of maternal antibodies in the yolk to the embryonic circulation that feeds the developing embryo. In addition, the YS tissue expresses high mRNA levels of the host defense peptide, avian beta-defensin 10 during mid embryogenesis. Owing to its origin, the YS EEC share some functional properties with intestinal epithelial cells such as expression of transporters for amino acids, peptides, monosaccharides, fatty acids, and minerals. The YS tissue stores glycogen and expresses enzymes for glycogen synthesis and breakdown and glucogenesis. This carbohydrate metabolism may play an important role in the hatching process. The mesodermal layer of the YS tissue is the site for erythropoiesis and provides erythrocytes before the maturation of the bone marrow. Other functions of the YS tissue involve synthesis of plasma proteins, lipid transport and cholesterol metabolism, and synthesis of thyroxine. Thus, the YS is an essential organ for the growth, development, and health of the developing embryo. This review will provide an overview of the studies that have investigated the functionalities of the YS tissue at the cellular and molecular levels with a focus on chickens.
Santos, J. S. ; Araujo, C. S. I. ; Martins, P. C. ; Royer, A. F. B. ; Cafe, M. B. ; Andrade, M. A. ; Uni, Z. ; Stringhini, J. H. The transfer of amino acids and minerals to the egg yolk and to the yolk sac of their progeny is affected by breeder age. JOURNAL OF ANIMAL PHYSIOLOGY AND ANIMAL NUTRITION 2021.Abstract
This study aimed to assess the effects of breeder age on egg quality and amino acid and mineral transfer to the egg yolk and yolk sac of newly hatched chicks. Three ages (32, 42 and 52 weeks) of the same commercial flock of Hubbard breeders were studied. A total of 465 eggs were used for each age, with 60 being used for determining egg quality and amino acid and mineral content of yolk, and 405 for incubation period to obtain and evaluate the yolk sac of chicks. Breeders aged 52 weeks had heavier eggs and a higher percentage of yolk (p < 0.05), whereas 32-week-old breeders had higher eggshell percentage and thickness (p < 0.05). The percentage of protein deposited in egg yolk for 52-week-old breeders was higher than that for 32- and 42-week-old breeders (p < 0.05). Percentages of methionine, cysteine, met + cysteine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, arginine and isoleucine in egg yolk for 32-week-old breeders were higher than that for 42- and 52-week-old breeders (p < 0.05). The transfer from breeder of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese and zinc to the yolk of eggs from 32-week-old breeders was greater than that for eggs from 42- and 52-week-old breeders (p < 0.05). Chicks from 32-week-old breeders had greater deposition of phosphorus and calcium in the yolk sac (p < 0.05). Breeder age did not affect the deposition of potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese and zinc in the yolk sac of newly hatch chicks (p > 0.05). It can, however, be concluded that younger breeders deposit more amino acids and minerals in egg yolk, while embryos of older breeders seem to use the nutrients present in the yolk more efficiently during embryonic development.
Reicher, N. ; Uni, Z. Intestinal brush border assembly during the peri-hatch period and its contribution to surface area expansion. POULTRY SCIENCE 2021, 100.Abstract
Microvilli generate the small intestinal brush border, the main site of nutrient digestion and absorption. Mucosal structuring of the small intestine of chicken during the perihatch period has been widely researched, yet the developmental dynamics of micro-villi during this period have not been fully character-ized. In this study, we examined the structural and molecular characteristics of microvilli assembly and maturation during the perihatch period. Small intes-tines of broiler embryos and chicks were sampled at prehatch ages 17 E and 19 E, at day of hatch (DOH) and at 1, 3, 7, and 10 d posthatch. Morphological evalu-ations and measurements were conducted by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and light microscopy (LM) (n = 3/timepoint), and expression of microvilli structural genes Plastin 1, Ezrin, and Myo1a was exam-ined by Real-Time qPCR (n = 6/timepoint). Results revealed dissimilar patterns of microvilli and villi devel-opment during the perihatch period. From 19 E to 1 d, microvilli lengths increased 4.3-fold while villi lengths increased 2.8-fold (P < 0.0001). From 3 to 7 d, villi lengths increased by 20% (P < 0.005), while microvilli lengths decreased by 41% (P = 0.001). At 10 d, micro-villi lengths stabilized, while villi continued to elongate by 26% (P < 0.0001). Estimations of the microvilli amplification factor (MAF) and total enterocyte surface area (TESA) revealed similar trends, with peak values of 78.53 and 1961.67 mu m(2), respectively, at 3 d. Microvilli structural gene expression portrayed diverse patterns. Expression of Plastin 1, which bundles and binds actin cores to the terminal web, increased 8.7-fold between 17 E and DOH (P = 0.005), and gradually increased up to 7 d (P = 0.045). Ezrin and Myo1a, both actin core-cell membrane cross-linkers, portrayed dif-ferent expression patterns throughout the perihatch period, as Ezrin expression was relatively stable, while Myo1a expression increased 15.8-fold between 17 E and 10 d (P < 0.0001). We conclude that microvilli assem -bly during the perihatch period is a rapid, coordinated process, which dramatically expands the digestive and absorptive surface area of the small intestine before the completion of villi maturation.
Reicher, N. ; Epstein, T. ; Gravitz, D. ; Cahaner, A. ; Rademacher, M. ; Braun, U. ; Uni, Z. From broiler breeder hen feed to the egg and embryo: The molecular effects of guanidinoacetate supplementation on creatine transport and synthesis. POULTRY SCIENCE 2020, 99, 3574-3582.Abstract
Supplementation of broiler breeder hens with beneficial additives bears great potential for affecting nutrient deposition into the fertile egg. Guanidinoacetate (GAA) is the endogenous precursor of creatine that is used as a feed additive for improving cellular energy metabolism in animal nutrition. In the present study, we have investigated whether GAA supplementation in broiler breeder feed affects creatine deposition into the hatching egg and molecular mechanisms of creatine transport and synthesis within hens and their progeny. For this, broiler breeder hens of 47 wk of age were supplemented with 0.15% GAA for 15 wk, and samples from their tissues, hatching eggs and progeny were compared with those of control, nonsupplemented hens. A significant increase in creatine content was found within the yolk and albumen of hatching eggs obtained from the GAA group, compared with the control group. The GAA group exhibited a significant increased creatine transporter gene expression compared with the control group in their small intestines and oviduct. In GAA group progeny, a significant decrease in creatine transporter expression at embryonic day 19 and day of hatch was found, compared with control group progeny. At the day of hatch, creatine synthesis genes (arginine glycine amidinotransferase and guanidinoacetate N-methyltransferase) exhibited significant decrease in expression in the GAA group progeny compared with control group progeny. These results indicate that GAA supplementation in broiler breeder feed increases its absorbance and deposition into hatching eggs, subsequently affecting GAA and creatine absorbance and synthesis within broiler progeny.
Dayan, J. ; Reicher, N. ; Melkman-Zehavi, T. ; Uni, Z. Incubation temperature affects yolk utilization through changes in expression of yolk sac tissue functional genes. POULTRY SCIENCE 2020, 99, 6128-6138.Abstract
The yolk sac tissue (YST) is a multifunctional metabolic organ supporting chicken embryonic development. This study examined whether incubation temperatures (ITs) affect YST functions. For this purpose, 300 eggs were assigned to 3 groups and incubated at control IT of 37.8 degrees C, at 1.5 degrees C below, 36.3 degrees C (cold IT), and at 1.5 degrees C above, 39.3 degrees C (hot IT). For each group, 6 embryos' whole body mass and residual yolk (RSY) weights were recorded during incubation, and YST was sampled for both histology and gene expression analysis. YST functionality during incubation was examined by regression analysis, comparing changes in expression patterns of genes involved in lipid uptake and metabolism (LRP2, ApoA1), oligopeptides uptake (PepT1), gluconeogenesis (FBP1), glycogenesis (GYS2), and thyroid hormones regulation (TTR, DIO1, DIO2). Results show that hot and cold ITs affected YST gene expression and yolk utilization. PepT1 expression decreased towards hatch, in both hot and cold ITs, while in the Control IT, it reached a plateau. ApoA1 and DIO2 expression showed a moderate linear fit compared to polynomial fit in the control. GYS2 expression had no change along incubation, while in the control IT, it showed a polynomial fit. Expression of LRP2, FBP1, and DIO1 genes was affected by either cold or hot IT's. TTR expression patterns were similar in all IT groups. The variations in gene expression patterns observed in the 3 ITs can explain the changes in yolk utilization, an important parameter for hatchling quality. While the control IT showed optimal utilization, with an RSY value of 11.12% at the day of hatch, the cold and hot IT groups exhibited lower utilization with an RSY value of 18.18 and 29.99%, respectively. These findings are the first to show that ITs change the expression of key YST genes, leading to variations in yolk utilization by the embryo.
Reicher, N. ; Melkman-Zehavi, T. ; Dayan, J. ; Uni, Z. It's All About Timing: Early Feeding Promotes Intestinal Maturation by Shifting the Ratios of Specialized Epithelial Cells in Chicks. FRONTIERS IN PHYSIOLOGY 2020, 11.Abstract
The small intestine (SI) of chicks (Gallus gallus) matures rapidly during the initial post-hatch period and acquires digestive, absorptive, and secretive capabilities. The effects of the timing of first feeding on the quantities and distribution of specialized epithelial cells, which generate and maintain SI morphology and functionality, have not yet been examined. In this study, we identified specialized SI epithelial cell sub-types, including stem, progenitor, proliferating, and differentiated cells within crypts and villi of chicks during the first 10 days post-hatch, by in situ hybridization (ISH), immunofluorescence (IF), and histochemical staining. We then examined their quantities and ratios between day of hatch and d10 in chicks that were fed upon hatch [early feeding (EF)], compared to chicks that were fed 24 h post-hatch [delayed feeding (DF)]. Results showed that EF increased total cell quantities in the crypts and villi at days 1, 3, 7, and 10, compared to DF (p < 0.0001). At d3, EF, in comparison to DF, decreased crypt stem cell proportions (p < 0.0001), increased crypt proliferating (p < 0.01) and differentiated (p < 0.05) cell proportions, and increased villus enterocyte proportions (p < 0.01). By d10, EF increased both the quantities and proportions of villus enterocytes and goblet cells, compared to DF. We conclude that feeding upon hatch, compared to 24 h-delayed feeding, enhanced SI maturation and functionality by increasing the quantities and proportions of proliferating and differentiated cells, thus expanding the digestive, absorptive, and secretive cell populations throughout the initial post-hatch period.
Cheled-Shoval, S. ; Behrens, M. ; Korb, A. ; Di Pizio, A. ; Meyerhof, W. ; Uni, Z. ; Niv, M. Y. From Cell to Beak: In-Vitro and In-Vivo Characterization of Chicken Bitter Taste Thresholds. Molecules 2017, 22. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Bitter taste elicits an aversive reaction, and is believed to protect against consuming poisons. Bitter molecules are detected by the Tas2r family of G-protein-coupled receptors, with a species-dependent number of subtypes. Chickens demonstrate bitter taste sensitivity despite having only three bitter taste receptors—ggTas2r1, ggTas2r2 and ggTas2r7. This minimalistic bitter taste system in chickens was used to determine relationships between in-vitro (measured in heterologous systems) and in-vivo (behavioral) detection thresholds. ggTas2r-selective ligands, nicotine (ggTas2r1), caffeine (ggTas2r2), erythromycin and (+)-catechin (ggTas2r7), and the Tas2r-promiscuous ligand quinine (all three ggTas2rs) were studied. Ligands of the same receptor had different in-vivo:in-vitro ratios, and the ggTas2r-promiscuous ligand did not exhibit lower in-vivo:in-vitro ratios than ggTas2r-selective ligands. In-vivo thresholds were similar or up to two orders of magnitude higher than the in-vitro ones.
Yair, R. ; Cahaner, A. ; Uni, Z. ; Shahar, R. Maternal and genetic effects on broiler bone properties during incubation period. Poultry Science 2017, 96, 2301 - 2311. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In order to examine the differences in bone properties between fast-growing and slow-growing broiler embryos and to understand the effects of genotype and egg size on these differences, fast- and slow-growing hens and males were reciprocally crossed to create 4 egg groups: FST (laid by fast-growing hens, inseminated by fast-growing males), H-FST (fast-growing hens and slow-growing males), H-SLW (slow-growing hens and fast-growing males), and SLW (slow-growing hens and slow-growing males). Embryos (n = 8) from these 4 groups were sacrificed and weighed, and both tibiae were harvested on embryonic d (E) 17, 19, and 21. Left tibiae were tested for their whole-bone mechanical properties using a micromechanical device. Cortical bone structure and bone mineral density (BMD) were examined by micro-computed tomography of the left tibiae. Bone mineralization was evaluated by measuring BMD and ash content, while the rate and location of mineralization were evaluated by fluorochrome labeling. Osteoclastic activity and osteocyte density were evaluated by histological stains [TRAP (Tartrate resistant acid phosphatase) and H&E (Hematoxylin and Eosin), respectively]. Groups with larger eggs (FST and H-FST) had higher BW and tibia weight than groups with smaller eggs (SLW and H-SLW); however, they had a lower ratio of tibia weight to BW. Between groups with similar egg weight, stiffness, maximal load, and yield load of the bones were higher in the SLW than the H-SLW, while no differences were found between the FST and H-FST. Additionally, the tibiae of the SLW were stiffer and their osteocyte density higher than in the FST on E21 and their periosteal mineralization rate was higher between E19 and E21. No differences were found between the groups in cortical bone structure. This study demonstrates that faster growing hatchlings, especially those that hatch from relatively small eggs, have inferior bone mechanical properties in comparison to slower growing hatchlings, and suggests that fast-growing chicks hatching from small eggs are at a higher risk for developing bone pathologies. Accordingly, selection for increased egg size may lead to improved mechanical performance of the skeleton of fast-growing broilers.
Cheled-Shoval, S. L. ; Reicher, N. ; Niv, M. Y. ; Uni, Z. Detecting thresholds for bitter, umami, and sweet tastants in broiler chicken using a 2-choice test method. Poultry Science 2017, 96, 2206 - 2218. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The sense of taste has a key role in nutrient sensing and food intake in animals. A standardized and simple method for determination of tastant-detection thresholds is required for chemosensory research in poultry. We established a 24-h, 2-alternative, forced-choice solution-consumption method and applied it to measure detection thresholds for 3 G-protein-coupled receptor-mediated taste modalities—bitter, sweet, and umami—in chicken. Four parameters were used to determine a significant response: 1) tastant-solution consumption; 2) water (tasteless) consumption; 3) total consumption (tastant and water together); 4) ratio of tastant consumption to total consumption. Our results showed that assignment of the taste solutions and a water control to 2 bottles on random sides of the pen can be reliably used for broiler chicks, even though 47% of the chicks groups demonstrated a consistently preferred side. The detection thresholds for quinine (bitter), L-monosodium glutamate (MSG) (umami), and sucrose (sweet) were determined to be 0.3 mM, 300 mM, and 1 M, respectively. The threshold results for quinine were similar to those for humans and rodents, but the chicks were found to be less sensitive to sucrose and MSG. The described method is useful for studying detection thresholds for tastants that have the potential to affect feed and water consumption in chickens.
Ifrah, M. E. ; Perelman, B. ; Finger, A. ; Uni, Z. The role of the bursa of Fabricius in the immune response to vaccinal antigens and the development of immune tolerance in chicks (Gallus domesticus) vaccinated at a very young age. Poultry Scienceps 2016, 96, 51 - 57. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Vaccination is recognized to be the most cost-effective means of preventing, controlling, and even eradicating infectious diseases. Conventional poultry are vaccinated through various routes including eye/nose drops, drinking water, vent brush, or injection. Efficient vaccination is an essential part of any good poultry management.The bursa of Fabricius is intimately connected to the cloaca and the intestinal system. It is well-known as a primary lymphoid organ in the chicken and a major channel through which environmental antigens stimulate the immune system. In this study we tested whether direct instillation of various viral vaccines and antigens into the cloaca (per bursam), could stimulate higher antibody titers and generate improved protection. Despite the very rapid absorption of the vaccines or antigens from the cloaca to the lumen of the Bursa of Fabricius, per bursam inoculation failed to generate a satisfactory immune response. In contrast conventional administration of live or inactivated commercial vaccines led to an acceptable level of seroconversion and protection against challenge.An interesting finding in this study was the fact that administration of a single priming dose of antigenic material at age 1 or 5 days, did not improve the response to a second administration at 14 days of age as expected. Instead, in most cases there was a reduced serum antibody response suggesting the induction of tolerance. This was true for all routes of administration (intramuscular, per ocular and per bursam) and for all formulations of vaccine.The current study reveals: 1) no advantage for direct application of live or inactivated vaccines or antigens into the bursa of Fabricius compared to common routes of vaccination, 2) that apparent desensitization or tolerance effects have important implications for poultry management, since in many countries, vaccination of day old chicks is compulsory or a well-accepted part of flock vaccination.According to our results, early vaccination can in fact reduce or inhibit a secondary immune response to subsequent vaccination and increase susceptibility to disease agents.