Zearalenone Exposure Triggered Cecal Physical Barrier Injury through the TGF-β1/Smads Signaling Pathway in Weaned Piglets
This study aims to investigate the effects of exposure to different dosages of zearalenone (ZEA) on cecal physical barrier functions and its mechanisms based on the TGF-β1/Smads signaling pathway in weaned piglets. Thirty-two weaned piglets were allotted to four groups and fed a basal diet supplemented with ZEA at 0, 0.15, 1.5, and 3.0 mg/kg, respectively. The results showed that 1.5 and 3.0 mg/kg ZEA damaged cecum morphology and microvilli, and changed distribution and shape of M cells. Moreover, 1.5 and 3.0 mg/kg ZEA decreased numbers of goblet cells, the expressions of TFF3 and tight junction proteins, and inhibited the TGF-β1/Smads signaling pathway. Interestingly, the 0.15 mg/kg ZEA had no significant effect on cecal physical barrier functions but decreased the expressions of Smad3, p-Smad3 and Smad7. Our study suggests that high-dose ZEA exposure impairs cecal physical barrier functions through inhibiting the TGF-β1/Smads signaling pathway, but low-dose ZEA had no significant effect on cecum morphology and integrity through inhibiting the expression of smad7. These findings provide a scientific basis for helping people explore how to reduce the toxicity of ZEA in feeds.