Stracke, J., Otten, W., Tuchscherer, A. et al. 2017. Dietary tryptophan supplementation and affective state in pigs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 20, 82-90.
The assessment and provision of welfare in farm animals has become a major issue in animal science. A key element for providing good welfare is the enabling of positive affective states in the animals. As the serotonergic system plays a central role in regulating affective behavior, an increase in centrally available serotonin (5-HT) via dietary supplementation of its precursor, tryptophan (TRP), might be an approach to induce positive affective states. Therefore, the aim of our study was to investigate the effects of dietary TRP supplementation on brain TRP metabolism and 5-HT levels but also on affective state and behavioral reactivity in pigs. All subjects were fed a standard diet until 8 weeks of age, then feed was changed for all animals, with half the animals (control) receiving a diet with the recommended TRP content (2.5 g/kg), whereas the other half (TRP+) received a TRP-enriched diet (10.2 g/kg). In part 1 of our study, we investigated the effects of the dietary TRP supplementation on TRP metabolism in brain areas related to affective and cognitive processing. We found significantly increased concentrations of TRP and its metabolites in nearly all analyzed brain tissues. In part 2 of our study, we analyzed the effects of these alterations on the affective state as measured in a cognitive bias test, namely the spatial judgment task, but also on behavioral reactivity as measured in a combined open field/novel object test. The TRP enrichment revealed no significant behavioral changes in the open field/novel object tests. In the spatial judgment task, the TRP+ group showed more pessimistic behavior after dietary change than before. Thus, our results do not support the suggestion that TRP supplementation induces positive affective states and thus improves animal welfare in pigs.