Nutrition Research Reviews

Review Article

Nutritional programming of gastrointestinal tract development. Is the pig a good model for man?

Paul Guilloteaua1 c1, Romuald Zabielskia2, Harald M. Hammona3 and Cornelia C. Metgesa3

a1 INRA, U1079, Unité Mixte de Recherche – Système Elevage, Nutrition Animale et Humaine (UMR SENAH), Domaine de la Prise, 35590 Saint-Gilles, France

a2 Department of Physiological Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

a3 Research Unit Nutritional Physiology, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), 18196 Dummerstorf, Germany


The consequences of early-life nutritional programming in man and other mammalian species have been studied chiefly at the metabolic level. Very few studies, if any, have been performed in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) as the target organ, but extensive GIT studies are needed since the GIT plays a key role in nutrient supply and has an impact on functions of the entire organism. The possible deleterious effects of nutritional programming at the metabolic level were discovered following epidemiological studies in human subjects, and confirmed in animal models. Investigating the impact of programming on GIT structure and function would need appropriate animal models due to ethical restrictions in the use of human subjects. The aim of the present review is to discuss the use of pigs as an animal model as a compromise between ethically acceptable animal studies and the requirement of data which can be interpolated to the human situation. In nutritional programming studies, rodents are the most frequently used model for man, but GIT development and digestive function in rodents are considerably different from those in man. In that aspect, the pig GIT is much closer to the human than that of rodents. The swine species is closely comparable with man in many nutritional and digestive aspects, and thus provides ample opportunity to be used in investigations on the consequences of nutritional programming for the GIT. In particular, the ‘sow–piglets’ dyad could be a useful tool to simulate the ‘human mother–infant’ dyad in studies which examine short-, middle- and long-term effects and is suggested as the reference model.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr P. Guilloteau, fax +33 2 23 48 50 80, email


Abbreviations: AGA, appropriate for gestational age; BW, body weight; CCK, cholecystokinin; GI, gastrointestinal; GIT, gastrointestinal tract; IGF, insulin-like growth factor; IUGR, intra-uterine growth retardation; LGA, large for gestational age; SGA, small for gestational age