It’s All About Timing: Early Feeding Promotes Intestinal Maturation by Shifting the Ratios of Specialized Epithelial Cells in Chicks

Naama Reicher, Tal Melkman-Zehavi, Jonathan Dayan, Zehava Uni*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number596457
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
StatePublished - 17 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Research Grant No. US-5074-18CR from the United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Reicher, Melkman-Zehavi, Dayan and Uni.


  • chick
  • epithelial cells
  • first feeding
  • intestine
  • maturation


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