Dietary lactose and its effect on the disease condition of necrotic enteritis.
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Clostridium perfringens is the etiologic agent of necrotic enteritis (NE) and is ubiquitous in nature. The incidence of NE has increased in countries and commercial companies that have stopped using antibiotic growth promoters. The mechanisms of colonization of C. perfringens and the factors involved in onset of NE are not fully understood. Previously, our laboratory has demonstrated that lactose could potentially reduce Salmonella and C. perfringens in ceca of poultry. In the present investigation, we hypothesized that dietary lactose would reduce the clinical signs of NE and could be used as an alternative to antibiotics. In experiment 1, day-of-hatch broilers were fed either a nonlactose control diet, a diet with 2.5% lactose, or a diet with 4.5% lactose throughout the experiment. Birds were administered C. perfringens (10(7) cfu/mL) daily via oral gavage for 3 consecutive days starting on d 17. When evaluating the intestinal lesions associated with NE, birds fed 2.5% lactose had significantly lower (P < 0.05) lesion scores (0.70 +/- 0.52) compared with the control (1.55 +/- 0.52) or the 4.5% lactose (1.60 +/- 0.52). The data from the microbial analysis showed that the addition of lactose did not affect any bacterial populations when compared with the control birds that did not receive dietary lactose over the 21-d evaluation. The overall lesion scores in experiment 2 were significantly (P < 0.05) reduced in birds fed 2.5% lactose compared with the birds fed the control diet with mean lesion scores of 1.10 +/- 0.73 and 1.80 +/- 0.73, respectively. These experiments suggest that lactose could be used as a potential alternative to growth-promoting antibiotics to help control this costly disease.