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Latin american journal of aquatic research

versión On-line ISSN 0718-560X

Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. vol.43 no.5 Valparaíso nov. 2015 

Research Article


Growth, immune status and intestinal morphology of Nile tilapia fed dietary prebiotics (mannan oligosaccharides-MOS)

Crecimiento, estado inmunológico y morfología intestinal de la tilapia del Nilo alimentadas con prebióticos (mananoligosacáridos-MOS) en la dieta


Ricardo Yuji-Sado1, Fernanda Raulino-Domanski2, Patricia Franchi de Freitas1 & Francielli Baioco-Sales3

1Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná, 85660-000, Dois Vizinhos, PR, Brazil
Bolsista Iniciação Científica CNPq, Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná
85660-000, Dois Vizinhos, PR, Brazil
3Programa de Pós-Graduação em Zootecnia PPGZO Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná 85660-000, Dois Vizinhos, PR, Brazil

Corresponding author: Ricardo Yuji-Sado (
Corresponding editor: Alvaro Bicudo

ABSTRACT. Farmers must conform to Best Management Practices in fish production such as the development of non-antibiotic dietary supplements for fish growth and health management. We determined the effects of increasing levels of dietary mannan oligosaccharides on growth, immune system and intestine integrity of Nile tilapia. Fish (49.6 ± 10.8 g) were randomly distributed into 12 tanks (250 L; 20 fish per tank) and fed during 60 days with a practical diet supplemented with 0.0, 0.2, 0.4 and 0.6% dietary mannan oligosaccharides (n = 3). Fish growth and immune system were not affected (P > 0.05) by treatments. Fish fed 0.4% prebiotic supplementation presented increased (P < 0.05) intestinal fold height. Moreover, the intestine muscular layer thickness was increased in fish fed 0.4 and 0.6% dietary prebiotic. After 60 days, there were no effects on intestinal morphology. Studies regarding characterization of intestinal microbiota and experiment that reproduce commercial fish production systems hearing conditions are necessary to determine the effective use of this dietary supplement for the species.

Keywords: Oreochromis niloticus, fish, oligosaccharides, nutrition, immune system, aquaculture.

RESUMEN. Los acuicultores deben cumplir con buenas prácticas de gestión en la producción de peces, como el uso de probióticos en la dieta, dado que las prácticas amigables con el medio ambiente merecen atención creciente. Se determinó los efectos de los crecientes niveles de mananoligosacáridos en la dieta sobre el crecimiento, sistema inmunológico y morfología intestinal de la tilapia del Nilo. Los peces (49,6 ± 10,8 g) fueron distribuidos al azar en 12 estanques (250 L; 20 peces por estanque) y alimentados durante 60 días con una dieta práctica suplementada con 0,0; 0,2; 0,4 y 0,6% de mananoligosacáridos (n = 3). El crecimiento de los peces y el sistema inmunológico no fueron afectados (P > 0,05) por los tratamientos. En los peces alimentados com probióticos durante 30 días se encontraron alteraciones histológicas. Los peces alimentados con 0,4% de suplementación probiótica presentaron incremento (P < 0,05) de la altura de las pliegues intestinales. Además, el espesor de la capa muscular del intestino se incrementó en los peces alimentados con 0,4 y 0,6% de probiótico dietético. Después de 60 días no se observaron efectos sobre la morfología intestinal. Se requiere efectuar estudios relativos a la caracterización de la microbiota intestinal y experimentos que reproducen las condiciones de cultivo en los sistemas de producción de peces, para determinar el uso eficaz de este suplemento dietético para esta especie.

Palabras clave: Oreochromis niloticus, peces, oligosacáridos, nutrición, sistema inmunológico, acuicultura.



In animal production, including aquaculture, for decades antibiotics are usually used to prevent diseases outbreaks or/and as growth promoters in sub-therapeutic dosage that can select bacterial strains with resistance to these antibiotics (Antibiotic Multiple Resistance-AMR) and already described in Brazil in fish (Belém-Costa & Cyrino, 2006). Moreover, the growing concern in public health, fish farmers must conform to Best Management Practices (BMPs) in fish production for human consumption (Boyd et al., 2005).

Attention start being given to the use of mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) derived from yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These molecules are easily isolated from yeast cell wall as well as incorporated into fish feed and do not cause environmental impact (Hisano et al., 2004).

The effects of dietary MOS on growth and health parameters have been recently performed in aquatic animals such as European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax (Torrecillas et al., 2007), rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss (Staykov et al., 2007), Nile tilapia (Sado et al., 2008), channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus (Peterson et al., 2010), Atlantic salmon Salmo salar (Refstie et al., 2010) and marron Cherax tenuimanus (Sang et al., 2011) and promising results such as improved weight gain, serum lysozyme concentration and disease resistance were observed.

Fish immune system can recognizes non-self-molecules (i.e., MOS prebiotic) through receptors that identify molecular patterns, which are characteristic of microbes (MAMPs-Microbe Associated Molecular Patterns) that stimulates fish leukocytes to produce lysozyme and others antimicrobial peptides (Song et al. , 2014). Moreover, MOS provide mannose substrate upon which pathogenic gut bacteria selectively attach, impairing the adhesion to enterocytes, leading to better gut health and villi integrity and diet nutrients uptake (Ghosh & Mehla, 2012).

The effect of dietary MOS on fish intestinal morphology was described for several economic important fish species (Dimitroglou et al., 2010a, 2010b; Genc et al., 2007; Pryor et al., 2003; Salze et al., 2008; Zhou et al., 2010) including the Brazilian Neotropical characin fish pacu, Piaractus mesopotamicus (Sado et al., 2014a). However, the use of MOS as prebiotic in fish nutrition is still in infancy as well as for the one of the most important fish in aquaculture, the Nile tilapia. Therefore, this study was set out to determine the effects of increasing levels of dietary MOS supplementation on growth, immune system and intestinal morphology of juvenile Nile tilapia.


Experimental design and animals

Trials were set up in water recirculation system, with continuous aeration and temperature control. Juvenile Nile tilapia (49.6 ± 10.8 g; 13.9 ± 7.1 cm) were randomly distributed into 250 L polyethylene circular tanks (20 fish per tank) in a totally randomized experimental design with four treatments, 0.0, 0.2, 0.4 and 0.6% MOS (YES-MOS®, YES - YesSinergy do Brasil Agroindustrial, Jaguariuna, Sao Paulo, Brazil) dietary supplementation (n = 3). Fish were acclimated to basal diet for 15 days prior experiment. Fish were fed with experimental diets for 60 days until apparent satiation (09:00 and 17:00h). Water quality parameters (pH 7.3 ± 0.4; dissolved oxygen 4.12 ± 0.52 mg L-1 and temperature 25.3 ± 1.2oC) were monitored electronically on a daily basis.

Experimental diets

A commercial fish feed formulation (PEIXES 32®, Anhambi Alimentos Ltda., Itapejara do Oeste, Parana, Brazil) was used for the basal experimental diets composition (Table 1). Into this basal diet it was added the respective treatments (0.0, 0.2, 0.4 and 0.6% dietary MOS) and extruded. The extruded feeds were dried in a forced ventilation oven at 45°C for 24 h; and pellets were packed in black plastic bags and stored under refrigeration until use.


Table 1. Chemical composition of basal, practical diet
(dry matter basis). *Anhambi Alimentos Ltda., Itapejara do
Oeste, Parana, Brazil. Vitamin and mineral supplementation
per kg of feed: calcium (min-max):14-34 g kg-1, phosphorous
(min) 10 g kg-1, lysine 17 g kg-1, metionin 6100 mg kg-1,
vitamin A (min) 15,000 UI kg-1, vitamin D3 (min): 3,000 UI
kg-1, vitamin E (min): 180 mg kg-1, vitamin K3 (min): 6.0 mg
kg-1, vitamin B1 (min): 18 mg kg-1, vitamin B2 (min): 32 mg
kg-1 vitamin B6 (min): 22 mg kg-1, vitamin B12 (min): 40 mcg,
vitamin C (min): 422 mg kg-1, nicotinic acid 150 mg kg-1,
pantothenic acid 60 mg kg-1, folic acid (min): 10 mg kg-1,
biotin (min): 1.50 mg kg-1, inositol (min): 238 mg kg-1, Fe
(min): 65 mg kg-1, Cu (min): 10.40 mg kg-1, Zn (min): 130
mg kg-1, Mg (min): 65 mg kg-1, iodine (min): 1.30 mg kg-1,
Se (min): 0.40 mg kg-1, cobalt (min): 0.35 mg kg-1, Sodium
2400 mg kg-1, choline 350 mg kg-1, antioxidant 200 mg kg-1,
enzimatic aditive 125 mg kg-1.


Growth parameters

At 30 and 60 days trial fish were fasted for 24 h and sedated for biometrical procedures and growth parameters calculated as follows: weight gain (WG (g) = FW-IW); feed consumption (FC); feed conversion rate (FCR = FC/WG); specific growth rate (SGR (% day-1) = 100 x [(lnFW-lnIW) / t]; feed efficiency (FE = WG/FC); daily feed intake index (DFI = 100 x {FC/[(FW-IW)/2]} /t) and condition factor (CF = WG/ [total length]3). Where: FW = final weight (g); IW = initial weight (g); t = experimental time (days); lnFW = natural logarithm of final weight; lnIW = natural logarithm of initial weight.

Growth parameters at 30 days trial was calculated taken in account the biomass of 20 animals and for 60 days, 18 fishes, since two fishes from each replicate was euthanized for histological procedures at 30 days of experiment.

Histological procedures

Histological procedures were performed at 30 and 60 days trial. A snippet of the proximal intestine (3.0 cm from pyloric sphincter) of two specimens from each treatment replicate was sampled. Tissue samples were washed with saline solution (0.6%) and fixed for 24 h in Alfac solution. After 24 h, fixed samples were stored in a 70% alcohol solution, dehydrated in ethanol, diaphanized in xilol and blocked in histological paraffin. Histological sections (5 μm) were stained with haematoxylin and eosin (H & E) and documented photographically with a digital camera (DCM 130E/1.3 megapixels, CMOS Software Scopephoto, China) connected to a light microscope (EDUTEC 502 AC, Brazil). The images were analyzed by using BEL Eurisko Software (BEL-Engineering, Italy) for intestinal fold height and muscular layer thickness measures.

Immunological parameters

Immunological analyses were performed at 30 and 60 days trial. Four fish from each tank were anesthetized in benzocaine solution (1:10,000) and blood samples were drawn from caudal vessel using sterilized syringes and separated into two 1.5 mL microtubes, one containing EDTA for leukocyte respiratory burst and the other with no anticoagulant for serum lysozyme and total protein concentration.

Blood samples with EDTA were used for leukocyte respiratory burst by NBT (Nitroblue tetrazolium) colorimetric assay. To this, 100 μL of blood was added to 100 μL of 0.2% NBT solution (Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA), homogenized and incubated for 30 min at 25oC. After the incubation, 50 μL of this suspension was added to 1.0 mL of N, N-dimethylformamide (DMF, Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA) and centrifuged (755 g) for 5 min. The absorbance of the supernatant was determined using a spectrophotometer at 540 nm.

Lysozyme concentrations (LC) were determined using fish serum from blood without EDTA based on the lyses of Micrococcus lysodeikticus microorganism by reduction of optical density during bacterial cell wall lyses. Prior to fish serum analysis, it was determined the calibration curve by quantification the difference of optical density (ΔOD) (0.5 to 5 min) of different concentrations of standard lysozyme (L 6876, Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA) according to Abreu et al. (2009).

Serum samples were submitted to heat (56oC for 30 min) to inactivate complement system proteins and certify that lysis of M. lysodeikticus had occurred solely by lysozyme action. After this, 150 μL of fish serum and 150 μL sodium phosphate buffer was dispensed into glass cuvette and incubated at 26oC for 2 min in the spectrophotometer and 300 μL of M. lysodeikticus suspension (0.2 mg mL-1 sodium phosphate buffer) was added to complete 600 μL final volumes. Difference between the initial and final optical density (Δ OD) was measured between 0.5 and 5 min in spectrophotometer at 450 nm. The equation of lysozyme calibration curve was used to determine the serum lysozyme levels (μg mL-1).

Total serum protein concentrations were determined using a portable refractometer (Biobrix 301/Protein 0.0-12 g dL-1) after blood sample without EDTA centrifugation and serum collection.

Statistical analysis

Significant effects of dietary MOS levels for 30 and 60 days were determined by one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), at 5% probability. Brown and Forsythe and Shapiro-Wilk test, respectively validated the assumption of homogeneity of variance (homocedasticity) and normalit-y. Means of statistically difference were compared using Tukey's test (α = 0.05) (Steel & Torrie, 1980).

This research was approved by the Ethics Committee on Animal Use (CEUA) of UTFPR (protocol No2014-001).


Dietary MOS supplementation for 30 and 60 days to juvenile Nile tilapia did not influenced (P > 0.05) growth parameters (Table 2).


Table 2. Growth parameters (μ ± SD) of Nile tilapia O. niloticus fed increasing levels of
dietary mannan oligosaccharide (MOS) for 30 and 60 days. *Mannan oligosaccharide-YES-
MOS® (YES-YesSinergy do Brasil Agroindustrial, Jaguariuna, São Paulo, Brazil). WG: weight
gain, FC: feed consumption, FRC: feed conversion rate, SGR: specific growth rate, FE: feed
efficiency, DFI: daily feed intake index, CF: condition factor.


Histological analysis carried on this study revealed increase (P < 0.05) in intestinal fold height (Fig. 1) and muscular layer thickness (Fig. 2) between fish fed control diet and MOS supplemented diets for 30 days.


Figure 1. Intestinal fold height of Nile tilapia O. niloticus
fed increasing levels of dietary mannan oligosaccharides
(MOS) for 30 and 60 days trial. Different letters above
same color columns indicate differences by Tukey test
(α = 0.05).


Figure 2. Intestinal muscular thickness of Nile tilapia
O. niloticus
fed increasing levels of dietary mannan
oligosaccharides (MOS) for 30 and 60 days trial.
Different letters above same color columns indicate
differences by Tukey test (α = 0.05).


Intestinal fold height was increased (P < 0.05) in fish fed dietary MOS when compared to fish fed control diet. Moreover, fish fed 0.4% dietary MOS presented the highest (P < 0.05) intestinal fold height (430.27 ± 89.72 μm) compared to others treatments: control (292.81 ± 45.11 μm), 0.2% (351.31 ± 56.00 μm) and 0.6% (348.23 ± 37.69 μm). Fish fed 0.4 and 0.6% dietary MOS had significant increasing in muscular layer thickness (72.5 ± 21.95 μm and 71.44 ± 24.48 μm respectively). After 60 days trial there were no effects (P > 0.05) on gut morphology.

Fish immunological parameters also did not influenced by dietary MOS (Table 3). Serum lysozyme concentrations (LC) were determined based on calibration curve equation (LC = 7150.7(Δ OD) + 50.793; R2 = 0.972).


Table 3. Immunological parameters (μ ± SD) of Nile tilapia O. niloticus fed
increasing levels of dietary mannan oligosaccharide (MOS) for 30 and 60 days.
*Mannan oligosaccharide-YES-MOS® (YES-YesSinergy do Brasil Agroindustrial,
Jaguariuna, São Paulo, Brazil). Lys: serum lysozyme concentrations, Burst:
leukocyte respiratory burst activity, Prot: serum total protein concentration,
DO: optical density.



Prebiotics in aquaculture are used to enhance fish growth and disease resistance, improving economic viability and sustainability of fish farming (Ringø et al., 2010). Several studies have shown that dietary prebiotics enhances growth and health of aquatic animals (Sakai, 1999; Bricknell & Dalmo, 2005; Mazlum et al., 2011).

Increased growth parameters in fish fed dietary MOS was observed in rainbow trout (Staykov et al., 2007), European sea bass (Torrecillas et al., 2007, 2011) and gilthead sea bream Sparus aurata (Gültepe et al., 2011). However, dietary MOS in fish nutrition are still controversial since some studies did not observe improvements on growth parameters.

As herein observed, increasing levels of dietary MOS did not affect fish growth and similar results was observed for Nile tilapia supplemented for 45 days with 0.0, 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8 and 1.0% (Sado et al., 2008) and 0.0, 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0% MOS for 53 days trial (Schwarz et al., 2010) as well as for pacu fed 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8, 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0% dietary MOS for 63 days (Sado et al., 2014a).

In the same way, several authors observed no effects on growth in another fish species such as for Gulf of Mexico sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi fed 0.3% dietary MOS (Pryor et al., 2003), Atlantic salmon Salmo salar fed 1.0% dietary MOS (Grisdale-Helland et al., 2008), gilthead sea bream Sparus aurata fed 0.2 and 0.4% dietary MOS (Dimitroglou et al., 2010a) and giant sturgeon Huso huso fed 0.2 and 0.4% dietary MOS (Mansour et al., 2012).

The variability in results found in literature may be explained by the complex carbohydrate structure present in the cell wall of yeast, different strains and fermentation conditions, processing methods can all alter their function (Newman, 2007). Moreover, depending on MOS concentration, administration period, fish growing stage, rearing conditions, feed formulation and extrusion procedures different results can be presented (Pryor et al., 2003; Carvalho et al., 2011; Peterson et al., 2012; Torrecillas et al., 2014).

Prebiotics are defined as short-chain carbohydrates that modulate the composition and metabolism of the microorganisms of the intestinal tract in a beneficial way (Macfarlane et al., 2006). They are non-digestible fibers by enzymes, acids and salts produced by the animals' digestion process, acting as a substrate, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal system, which produce acids, which decrease the concentration of bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms and protect the intestinal mucosa (Song et al., 2014). This brings benefits to the host with improvements in growth, digestion of nutrients, immunity and resistance to disease (Burr & Gatlin 2005).

Dietary MOS can enhance gut health by eliciting better intestinal development and increase nutrient absorption area and well documented in fish such as cobia (Salze et al., 2008), red drum (Zhou et al., 2010), gilthead sea bream (Dimitroglou et al., 2010a), white sea bream (Dimitroglou et al., 2010b) and Nile tilapia (Hisano et al., 2006; Carvalho et al., 2011), corroborating the results observed in this trial.

Mannan oligosaccharides provide mannose substrate upon which pathogenic gut bacteria selectively attach. The inhibition of pathogenic bacteria adhesion to enterocyte prevents colonies formation and infection of host cells, increasing gut health, regularity, height and integrity of the gut tissue and consequent better utilization and absorption of nutrients (Pryor et al., 2003; Heidarieh et al., 2013).

Contradictory results was observed for hybrid tilapia (O. niloticus x O. aureus) (Genc et al., 2007) and pacu (Sado et al., 2014a) fed increasing levels of dietary MOS for 60 days and did not show improved fold height. In addition, Pryor et al. (2003) also did not find any significant difference in intestinal morphology of sturgeons fed 0.3% MOS supplementation for 28 days and similar results were reported by Torrecillas et al. (2007) for European sea bass fed diets containing 0.2 and 0.4% MOS for 48 days. Feeding 0.2 and 0.4% dietary MOS to gilthead sea bream also did not result in differences in gross intestinal and liver histology (Dimitroglou et al., 2010a).

Although ultrastructural analysis were not performed, the increased fold height herein observed in fish fed dietary MOS for 30 days that did not reflect better growth could be explained by the impossibility to observe integrity of intestinal brush border and microvilli by optical microscopy (Sado et al., 2014a).

Ultrastructural analysis of anterior intestine of cobia larvae fed rotifers enriched with 0.2% MOS showed increased microvilli height (Salze et al., 2008) as well as for gilthead sea bream fed 0.2 and 0.4% dietary MOS (Dimitroglou et al., 2010a) and red drum fed 1% dietary prebiotics such as MOS, FOS (fructooligosaccharides) and GOS (galactooligosaccharides) (Zhou et al., 2010).

However, in both cases, in spite the fact that ultrastructural analysis showed increased density of microvilli structures and length that could improve the potential of nutrient absorption, dietary MOS did not influence the species' growth rate and feed utilization. Moreover, white sea bream larvae fed artemia enriched with 0.2% MOS also showed improved intestinal microvilli surface (about 12%) and length (Dimitroglou et al., 2010b), but no effects on performance of fish were reported.

Fish digestive system shows high phenotypic plasticity in response to diet composition, and it is more evident in omnivorous fishes (Gonçalves et al., 2011). Oligosaccharides such as MOS can increase mucus secretion by enterocytes that improves digest's viscosity (Torrecillas et al., 2011). Therefore, the increase in digest's viscosity could stimulate intestine's muscular layer development to move the alimentary bolus through digestive tract as herein observed.

The innate immune system of fish can recognize non-self substances through protein recognition receptors that identify molecular patterns, which are characteristics of microbes (polysaccharides, lipopolysaccharide, peptidoglycans, bacterial DNA, and double-stranded viral RNA) and not ordinarily found on the surface of multicellular organisms, called Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns-PAMPs (Rauta et al., 2014; Song et al., 2014).

Mannan oligosaccharides are compounds isolated from cell wall of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Thus, it can stimulate fish immune system such as antibody production, leukocyte bactericidal, lysozyme and complement activity, as observed for rainbow trout (Staykov et al., 2007) and European seabass (Torrecillas et al., 2007). In the same way, Labeo rohita fish fed prebiotic for 28 and 42 days (Misra et al., 2006a) or intraperitoneal injection (Misra et al., 2006b) showed increase in lysozyme concentrations, demonstrating that time and via of administration can influence the prebiotic effect.

Lysozyme is a molecule, primarily produced by leukocytes for protection against microbial infection, preventing bacteria invasion and infection (Saurabh & Sahoo, 2008). After phagocytosis initiates by leukocytes, increase in molecular oxygen consumption occurs, known as respiratory burst. In this process, the phagocytes produce reactive oxygen species that contribute for microorganism destruction (Biller-Takahashi; Urbinati, 2014).

However, in this trial it was observed no effect of dietary MOS on fish immune status. This results can be explained by the fact of the present work was performed under ideal controlled laboratory conditions and fishes were not challenged by biological and/or ambient stressor that reproduces intensive fish production system hearing conditions. In fact, when fish is exposed to biological challenge, the potential effect of dietary prebiotic on fish immune system can be expressed as observed for snakehead (Channa striata) fingerlings fed dietary prebiotics (MOS and glucans) and probiotics after challenge with Aeromonas hydrophila (Talpur et al., 2014).

Dietary MOS did not influence serum total protein concentrations. However, rainbow trout fed dietary prebiotic for seven days showed increase in total plasmatic protein (Siwicki et al., 1994) as well as for L. rohita (Misra et al., 2006a, 2006b). In addition, pacu fed 0.2% dietary MOS also showed increased total plasmatic protein (Sado et al., 2014b).

Total plasmatic protein represents several blood peptides such as lysozyme, immunoglobulins and albumin as well as complement factors (Misra et al., 2006a). Thus, the result regarding total plasmatic protein herein observed corroborate the absent of significant effect of treatments on serum lysozyme concentration.

This study shows the potential and functionality of prebiotics compounds such as mannan oligosaccha-rides as dietary supplement for Nile tilapia to modulate gut morphology. However, further researches must focus experiments that reproduce commercial fish production systems hearing conditions are necessary to determine the effective use of this dietary supplement for the specie.


To Yes Sinergy (Jaguaiuna, SP, Brazil) for providing the tested feed supplement-Yes-MOS®, Anhambi Alimentos Ltda. (Itapejara do Oeste, PR, Brazil) for providing the practical diet formulation and CNPq (Proc. 474153/2011-8) for financial support.



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Received: 22 December 2014;
Accepted: 22 September 2015


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