Ingestion of Lactobacillus rhamnosus modulates chronic stress-induced feather pecking in chickens
Feather pecking (FP) is a stress-induced neuropsychological disorder of birds. Intestinal dysbiosis and inflammation are common traits of these disorders. FP is, therefore, proposed to be a behavioral consequence of dysregulated communication between the gut and the brain. Probiotic bacteria are known to favorably modulate the gut microbiome and hence the neurochemical and immune components of the gut-brain axis. Consequently, probiotic supplementation represents a promising new therapeutic to mitigate widespread FP in domestic chickens. We monitored FP, gut microbiota composition, immune markers, and amino acids related to the production of neurochemicals in chickens supplemented with Lactobacillus rhamnosus or a placebo. Data demonstrate that, when stressed, the incidence of FP increased significantly; however, L. rhamnosus prevented this increase. L. rhamnosus supplementation showed a strong immunological effect by increasing the regulatory T cell population of the spleen and the cecal tonsils, in addition to limiting cecal microbiota dysbiosis. Despite minimal changes in aromatic amino acid levels, data suggest that catecholaminergic circuits may be an interesting target for further studies. Overall, our findings provide the first data supporting the use of a single-strain probiotic to reduce stress-induced FP in chickens and promise to improve domestic birds' welfare.