The early postnatal development of the gut immune system is important for effective immunological responses towards nutritional and microbial antigens in the intestinal lumen. Adaptation to the commensal flora, defense against pathogens, and the development of oral tolerance to food components are essential immunological processes. Depending on the food composition and on the presence of oral food components, the morphology of both the intestinal mucosa and the intestinal immune cells changes (Ganessunker et al. 1999; Park et al. 1998; Shulman et al. 1988; Shulman 1988). In humans, it has been reported that the maturity of the child at birth and the feeding pattern in the early postnatal period influences health later on (Saarinen and Savilahti 2000; Siltanen et al. 2001). The pig may well represent an animal model suitable for studying these observations in more detail, as, for example, the development of the B lymphocyte subsets in the intestinal mucosa is comparable in humans and pigs (Perkkio and Savilahti 1980; Rothkotter et al. 1991).
In pigs, the structure of the Peyer's patches under various antigenic stimuli has been described (Barman et al. 1997; Makala et al. 2000; Pabst et al. 1988), and the appearance of lamina propria and intraepithelial lymphocyte subpopulations have been analyzed (Rothkötter et al. 1991; Rothkötter et al. 1999b; Vega-Lopez et al. 1993). Various methods to separate lymphocytes and dendritic cells from the intestine have been developed (Bailey et al. 1994a; Haverson et al. 1999; Haverson et al. 2000; Rothkötter et al. 1994; Solano-Aguilar et al. 2000). Nonradioactive in situ hybridization for major T cell cytokines has been performed (Sowa et al. 2002). In pigs, the techniques for the analysis of the intestinal immune system have been established; thus, test systems for the effects of antigens or putative hazardous environmental substances can be developed on a solid basis.
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