Long-distance transport is associated with stress-related changes in equine immune function, and shipping-associated illnesses are often reported. Horses are frequently transported short distances, yet the effects of short-term transport on immune function remain largely unknown. Twelve horses, aged 15–30 yr, were assigned to either the control (n = 6) or treatment (n = 6) groups; treatment horses received a daily antioxidant supplement 3 weeks before and after transport. All horses were transported for approximately 1.5–2 hr on Day 0. Blood was collected via jugular venipuncture at 15-min pre- and post-transport and on Days –21, 1, 3, 7, 14, and 21. Body temperature, heart rate, body weight, total cortisol, and gene expression of IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-12α, IL-17α, SAA1, and TNFα in whole blood were measured. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated, stimulated with PMA/ionomycin, and stained for IFNγ and TNFα before analysis via flow cytometry. Statistical analyses were performed with significance set at P < 0.05 (SAS 9.4). Transport and supplementation did not appear to affect body weight, heart rate, IL-4, IL-8, IL-12α, IL-17α, change (Δ) in the % and mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) of IFNγ+ lymphocytes after stimulation, or Δ in the % and MFI of TNFα+ lymphocytes after stimulation. Supplementation decreased IL-1β and SAA1 expression. Transport increased total cortisol concentration, body temperature, and IL-2, IL-6, and IL-10 expression but decreased IL-1β, TNFα, and IFNγ expression. Short-term transportation affected physiological, endocrine, and immune responses; supplementation may ameliorate inflammation in aged horses. Immune responses were most altered at 15-min post-transport and typically recovered by Day 1, suggesting that horses may be vulnerable to disease during and almost immediately after short-term transport.

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Published in PLOS ONE, v. 16, issue 8, 0254139.

© 2021 Miller et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Funding Information

The study (Grant #: 201606030802) was funded by Waltham Petcare Science Institute (https://www.waltham.com). Co-author PH is employed by the funding organization and the manufacturers of the supplement in the study but did not direct the other co-authors to any specific interpretation of the findings. With the exception of co-author PH, the funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The supplement used in this study was provided at no cost by the funding organization. Salary support for AM was provided during a portion of the manuscript preparation by a Paul Mellon postdoctoral scholarship in the research program of co-author AA.

pone.0254139.s001.xlsx (57 kB)
Study dataset. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254139.s001