In this challenge study, we evaluated the possible effects of prophylactic vitamin C administration on the efficiency of two common antibacterials in broilers with a multi drug and methicillin-resistant S. aureus induced-SA.
Staphylococci are ubiquitous bacteria in the poultry farm environment which can cause opportunistic infections in poultry. S. aureus, as the most pathogenic Staphylococcus species, results in clinical symptoms often seen in bones, joints, and tendon sheaths with usually a chronic nature (Szafraniec, Szeleszczuk, and Dolka 2020).
As it was expected, we observed that the induction of the arthritis is associated with a negative effect on birds’ weight of PC group at both samplings that can be described by the arthritis-associated pain and discomfort that limits the birds’ tendency to move. Although less severe, the arthritis was still present in sampling 2 (20th day after induction) with severe lameness that shows the long term nature of the disease. The histopathological findings also confirmed the presence of inflammatory reactions accompanied by degeneration and necrosis in synovial membrane cells and damage to articular cartilage at sampling 2. Moreover, intra lesional bacterial colonies were present that reflect the incapability of immune system for clearing the persistent infection. In fact, it has been demonstrated that the damage associated with SA is not only due to the bacterial invasion, but also the immense response by immune system that result in a sustained inflammation with destructive consequences in joints (Corrado et al. 2016).
Administration of SDT (but not FF) resulted in better weight gain of arthritic birds especially in sampling 2 where body weight of birds in SDT group was statistically the same with NC birds. Notably, administration of FF was associated with body weights statistically lower than PC group at sampling 2 (10 days after the last treatment). Consistently, in a study by Hassanin et al., 2014 (Hassanin, Abdallah, and Awad 2014) on broilers that were challenged with E. coli and received FF for 5 consecutive days, the authors reported a decreasing effect of FF administration on body weight at 7 and 14 days after stopping treatment.
In the present study, although administration of vitamin C did not result in enhancement of weight gain in birds that received SDT, this vitamin significantly increased the weight of birds in VitC + FF group in comparison with those that only received FF in sampling 2. This effect was not associated with better results regarding lameness scores and therefore the ability of birds to reach food. Consistently, Njoku 1986 (Njoku 1986) reported a positive effect of dietary vitamin C supplementation on body weight of broilers in tropical environment without affecting their feed intake. In a study by Gouda et al., 2020 (Gouda et al. 2020), it was demonstrated that vitamin C can positively affect broiler growth performance under heat stress by improving hormonal and health status parameters of birds. The reason behind the positive effect of vitamin C on broiler weight in VitC + FF group might be related to better hormonal parameters although it needs to be confirmed in future studies.
When established, SA is not easily treated with antibacterials, which can be related to the characteristics of infection site as well as the possibility of multi drug resistance of the pathogen. At sampling 2 of our study, SDT showed better efficiency in reducing arthritis severity scores compared to FF. This observation is consistent with the study performed by Mosleh et al., 2016 (Mosleh et al. 2016), on the comparative efficiency of different antibiotics (including FF and SDT) in broilers with staphylococcal SA where SDT generally showed better therapeutic outcome than other antibacterials.
In the present study, prophylactic administration of vitamin C was not associated with a significant improvement of the effect of both antibacterials on clinical parameters of septic arthritis, although milder histopathological changes were observed at sampling 2 in birds that received vitamin C and SDT compared with SDT group. In contrast to our results, Mal et al., 2012 (Mal et al. 2012), reported that administration of vitamin C with gentamicin enhances the reducing effect of gentamicin on inflammatory response especially in ankle joint of mice challenged with S. aureus on days 3, 9 and 15 post arthritis induction. The difference in the antibacterial agents that were used as well as the animal species may be the major reasons for this discrepancy.
It has been demonstrated that neutrophils are the major recruited immune cells to the joint during the immune response against S. aureus SA and production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is one of the major mechanisms that neutrophils use to kill bacterial pathogens (Boff et al. 2018). As previously stated, we observed vast and intense infiltration of heterophils, the avian counterparts of mammalian neutrophils, in histopathological joint samples of birds in PC group. This observation was accompanied by oxidative stress in birds of this group at first sampling as shown by an obvious increase in serum MDA levels, a primary indicator of lipid peroxidation, of PC birds compared to NC group. The increase in MDA levels was associated with increased TAC that can be considered as a compensatory response to oxidative stress. Administration of both antibacterials was not associated with a significant change in MDA levels as compared to PC birds in sampling 1, although the levels of MDA was lower in FF and VitC + FF group as compared to PC birds in sampling 2. This observation can be explained by the fact that only few heterophils were present in histopathological samples of birds in FF and VitC + FF groups at sampling 2.
In our study, vitamin C significantly lowered levels of MDA in VitC + FF group as compared to FF in sampling 1. In a study by Mosleh et al., 2018 (Mosleh et al. 2018), it was reported that 5 days of vitamin C administration to broilers under chronic heat stress can significantly reduce serum MDA levels of these birds while longer administration was not associated with appreciable effects on this parameter.
In human patients with staphylococcal SA, migration of neutrophils to infected joints is followed by activated macrophages (Boff et al. 2018). Cytokines released from macrophages such as IL-6 have a major role in cartilage and bone destruction and IL-6 is also important in differentiation of T-cells (Dey and Bishayi 2017). Consistently, S. aureus-dependent SA in murine knee joints has been associated with an increase of IL-6 in both blood and knee joint (Corrado et al. 2016). However, in our study, induction of arthritis did not result in significant change of IL-6 levels in synovial fluid of PC birds as compared to NC group and also no significant difference was observed among treated groups and PC birds at both samplings. This observation is consistent with the study performed by Mosleh et al., 2016 (Mosleh et al. 2016) on broilers with staphylococcal arthritis. These authors also did not find a change in serum levels of IL-6 in arthritic birds. It is noteworthy that in histopathological examination of arthritic joints we did not find many macrophages. This can describe the reason that we did not find an increase in IL-6 level in arthritic joints.
In conclusion, by injecting a multidrug resistant S. aureus into the joint, a long lasting SA develops in broilers which is not reflected in the level of IL-6 in synovial fluid. The therapeutic response to SDT is generally better than FF with regard to body weight and arthritis severity score while FF administration has better effects on oxidative stress parameters. Both antibacterials are not completely successful in treating the condition. Prophylactic administration of vitamin C does not appreciably enhance the therapeutic efficiency of antibacterials on clinical parameters of arthritis, although it decreases the lipid peroxidation and improves weights of FF treated-arthritic birds. For SDT-treated birds, administration of vitamin C only ameliorates histopathological changes.