The virulence of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is attributed to their ability to adhere via fimbrial adhesins to specific receptors located on the intestinal mucosa. A novel approach to preventing ETEC induced diarrhoea would be to prevent attachment of ETEC to intestine by proteolytically modifying the receptor attachment sites. This study aimed to examine the effect of bromelain, a proteolytic extract obtained from pineapple stems, on ETEC receptor activity in porcine small intestine. Bromelain was administered orally to piglets and K88+ ETEC attachment to small intestine was measured at 50 cm intervals using an enzyme immunoassay. K88+ ETEC attachment to intestinal sections that were not treated with bromelain varied appreciably between sampling sites. Variability in receptor activity along the intestinal surface is though to be caused by the localised effects of endogenous proteases. Oral administration of exogenous protease inhibited K88+ ETEC attachment to pig small intestine in a dose dependent manner (p < 0.05). Attachment of K88+ ETEC was negligible after treatment, resembling the levels of attachment of K88 to piglets of the genetically determined non-adhesive phenotype, which are resistant to K88+ ETEC infection. Serum biochemical analysis and histopathological examination of treated piglets showed no adverse effects of the bromelain treatment. It is concluded that administration of bromelain can inhibit ETEC receptor activity in vivo and may therefore be useful for prevention of K88+ ETEC induced diarrhoea.
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