Maternal antibody transfer from dams to their egg yolks, egg whites, and chicks in meat lines of chickens

K. R. Hamal, S. C. Burgess, I. Y. Pevzner, G. F. Erf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

245 Scopus citations


Maternal antibodies are transferred from hens to the chicks via the egg. To gain insight into maternal antibody transfer and endogenous production of antibodies in broiler chicks, total IgY, IgA, IgM, as well as anti-Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and anti-infectious bronchitis (IBV) antibody levels were examined in the dams' plasma, egg yolks, egg whites, and chicks' plasma on d 3, 7, 14, and 21. Blood was collected from 39-wk-old breeder hens (line 1, n = 17; line 2, n = 21). Fertile eggs were used for antibody extraction from the egg yolks and egg whites (4 to 5 eggs/dam) and for hatching. Unvaccinated chicks (4 to 5 chicks/dam) were reared in a HEPA-filtered room and were bled on d 3, 7, 14 and 21. Based on ELISA methods, plasma levels of IgY and IgM were higher (P < 0.0001), and those of IgA were similar (P = 0.31), in line 2 compared with line 1. Egg yolk IgY and IgA, as well as egg white IgY, IgA, and IgM levels were higher in line 2 compared with line 1 (P < 0.0001). Independent of line of chicken, the percentage dam-to-chick (3 d) plasma transfer of IgY was estimated to be approximately 30%, with that for IgM and IgA less than 1%. Chicks synthesized IgM first, followed by IgA and IgY. Anti-NDV and anti-IBV antibodies were detected in the dams' plasma, egg yolks, and in the chicks' plasma on d 3 and 7, with line 2 having higher anti-IBV and lower anti-NDV levels than line 1 in all samples (P < 0.0001). In summary, IgY levels, total or antigen-specific, in the dams' plasma or eggs were found to be a direct indicator of maternal antibody transfer to the chicks' circulation, with an expected percentage transfer of approximately 30%. This knowledge, together with the observed time course of endogenous antibody production in broiler chicks, may find direct application in formulating strategies for protecting chicks, especially during the first few weeks of age when their immune system is not yet fully functional.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1364-1372
Number of pages9
JournalPoultry science
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2006


  • Chick
  • Hen
  • Maternal antibody
  • Meat line

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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