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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Age-related changes in the shell gland and duodenum in relation to shell quality and bone strength in commercial laying hen hybrids

Wistedt, Anna; Ridderstrale, Yvonne; Wall, Helena; Holm, Lena


BackgroundDuring the production period of laying hens, the number of cracked eggshells increases and the skeleton becomes brittle. Both these problems are related to ageing of the hen and cause economic problems for egg producers and impaired animal welfare. This study investigated key factors in the shell gland and duodenum related to eggshell quality and bone strength in laying hens during the production period. Five Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and five Lohmann Brown (LB), common hybrids in commercial egg production, were euthanized at 21, 29, 49 and 70weeks (wk) of age. Blood samples for analysis of total calcium were taken at euthanization. Right femur and humerus were used for bone strength measurements and tissue samples from shell gland and duodenum were processed for morphology, immunohistochemical localisation of oestrogen receptors (ER, ER), plasma membrane calcium ATPase (PMCA) and histochemical localisation of carbonic anhydrases (CA). Eggs were collected for shell quality measurements.ResultsAt age 49week, shell and bone strength had both deteriorated, but the hens were then able to maintain the level until 70week of age and femur bone strength even improved. The main physiological findings associated with the effects seen at 49week were reduced gland density and a shift in balance between ER and ER in the shell gland, which coincided with a reduction in CA activity in the duodenum. Somewhat surprisingly, capillary density and capillaries with CA activity both increased in the shell gland over time, the latter possibly mediated via ER. These findings were independent of hybrid. PMCA was found in both shell gland and duodenum, but appeared unrelated to the age-related changes in shell and bone quality.ConclusionsIn hens around half-way through the production period, both shell quality and bone strength had deteriorated. Decreased gland density and a shift in the balance between ER and ER in the shell gland, co-occurring with a dramatic drop in duodenal CA activity, are suggested as possible factors involved in age-related changes in shell and bone quality.


Bone strength; Carbonic anhydrase; Domestic hen; Eggshell formation; Eggshell quality; Oestrogen receptors

Published in

Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica
2019, Volume: 61, article number: 14Publisher: BMC