Morphological, molecular, and functional changes in the chicken small intestine of the late-term embryo

Z. Uni*, E. Tako, O. Gal-Garber, D. Sklan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


The rapid development of the gastrointestinal tract posthatch has been described; however, little information exists concerning the development of the small intestine in the prehatch period. The present study examined the morphological, cellular, and molecular changes occurring in the small intestine toward the end of the incubation period by examining the expression of intestinal genes that code for brush border digestive enzymes and transporters, their biochemical activities, and the morphological changes in the mucosal layer. The results indicated that during the last 3 d of incubation the weight of the intestine, as a proportion of embryo weight, increased from approximately 1% on d 17 of embryonic age to 3.5% at hatch. At this time the villi could be divided into two main developmental stages, differing in their length and shape, with the larger villi often being pear-shaped and the smaller villi being narrower and having a rocket-like shape. However, on d 19 a further stage of villus development was observed. Activities of maltase, aminopeptidase, sodium-glucose transporter (SGLT)-1, and ATPase began to increase on d 19 and further increased on the day of hatch. The expression of mRNA for these brush-border membrane (BBM) enzymes and transporters was detected from d 15. Determining quantities relative to β-actin indicated that expression of all parameters examined was low on d 15 and 17, increased 9- to 25-fold on d 19, and all decreased again on the day of hatch. Relative expression of mRNA of the different enzymes and transporters were correlated as were their activities (r = 0.75 to 0.96); however, expression was not correlated with enzymatic activities. The role of these parameters in the ontogeny of absorption is discussed. Thus, major changes in the expression and localization of the functional brush-border proteins prepare the framework for ingestion of carbohydrate- and protein-rich exogenous feed posthatch.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1747-1754
Number of pages8
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Brush border enzyme
  • Embryo
  • Functional change
  • Intestine


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