Immune system activation begins a host of physiological responses. Infectious agents are recognized by monocytes and macrophages which in turn stimulate cytokine production. It is the hormone-like factors called cytokines that orchestrate the immune response. The classic responses observed with immune system activation and cytokine production include: anorexia, fever, lethargy, recruitment of other immune cells, and phagocytosis. While production of immune system components is known to require some amino acids, increases in amino acid requirements are more than offset by the associated decrease in protein accretion and increased muscle protein degradation that also accompanies immune system activation.
However, the biggest impact of cytokine production is a decrease in feed intake. Therefore, as feed intake decreases, the energy needed to drive protein synthesis is also decreased. This suggests that diets should still be formulated on a similar calorie:lysine ratio as those formulated for non-immune challenged pigs. The evidence is sparse or equivocal for increasing nutrient requirements during an immune challenge. Nutritionists and swine producers should resist the pressure to alter the diet, limit feed, or add expensive feed additives during an immune challenge. While immune stimulation does not necessitate changes in diet formulation, when pigs are challenged with non-pathogenic diarrhea there are potential advantages on gut health with the increased use of crystalline amino acids rather than intact protein sources (i.e., soybean meal). This is because reducing crude protein decreases the quantity of fermentable protein entering the large intestine, which lowers post weaning diarrhea. It also lowers the requirement for expensive specialty protein sources or other protein sources such as soybean meal that present immunological challenges to the gut. The objective of this review is two-fold. The first is to discuss immunity by nutrition interactions, or lack thereof, and secondly, to review amino acid requirement estimates for nursery pigs.