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J Anim Sci. 2006 Apr;84 Suppl:E105-12.

The biological basis for prenatal programming of postnatal performance in pigs.

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Swine Reproduction-Development Program, Swine Research & Technology Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2P5, Canada.


The main purpose of this review is to discuss associations between within-litter variation in birth weight, and preweaning survival and postnatal growth in the pig, as the basis for suggesting that the developmental competence of pigs born, as well as the size of the litter, need critical consideration. Extremes of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) occur within a discrete subset of fetuses, substantially smaller than their littermates and commonly described as runt piglets. The lower preweaning growth of runt pigs cannot be entirely explained based on their lower birth weight, nor do they show full postnatal compensatory growth. Interestingly, this more complex reprogramming of development in runt pigs can already be identified by d 27 to 35 of gestation. Recently, we reported more universal IUGR effects in commercial dam-line sows, as an indirect response to selection for increased litter size. High ovulation rates (>30 ovulations) in a proportion of greater parity sows are associated with increased numbers of conceptuses surviving to d 30 of gestation, resulting in detrimental effects on placental development of uterine crowding in the early postimplantation period. In turn, this limits nutrient availability to the embryo during a critical period of myogenesis. Consequently, although a reduction in the number of conceptuses occurs by d 50, placental development in the surviving fetuses remains compromised, resulting in IUGR and reduced numbers of muscle fibers at d 90 and at birth, in all surviving littermates. These effects of uterine crowding on fetal and postnatal development are analogous to the detrimental effects of nutritional restriction in gestating sows on fetal myogenesis, birth weight, and postnatal growth. The incompatibility between increased numbers of conceptuses surviving to the postimplantation period, in the absence of increased uterine capacity, offers a biological explanation for increased variability in birth weight and postnatal growth performance reported in greater parity sows. We conclude that a strategy of introducing hyperprolific females into the breeding nucleus, as a means of increasing the numbers of pigs born, needs to be critically evaluated in the context of the overall efficiency of pork production.

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