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Gene expression studies of host response to Salmonid alphavirus subtype 3 experimental infections in Atlantic salmon

Cheng Xu, Tz-Chun Guo, Stephen Mutoloki*, Øyvind Haugland and Øystein Evensen

Author Affiliations

Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Department of Basic science and Aquatic Medicine, P.O. Box 8146 Dep, Oslo 0033, Norway

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Veterinary Research 2012, 43:78  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-43-78

Published: 1 November 2012


Salmonid alphavirus subtype-3 (SAV-3) infection in Atlantic salmon is exclusively found in Norway. The salmonid alphaviruses have been well characterized at the genome level but there is limited information about the host-pathogen interaction phenomena. This study was undertaken to characterize the replication and spread of SAV-3 in internal organs of experimentally infected Atlantic salmon and the subsequent innate and adaptive immune responses. In addition, suitability of a cohabitation challenge model for this virus was also examined. Groups of fish were infected by intramuscular injection (IM), cohabited (CO) or kept uninfected in a separate tank. Samples of pancreas, kidney, spleen, heart and skeletal muscles were collected at 2, 4 and 8 weeks post infection (wpi). Pathological changes were assessed by histology concurrently with viral loads and mRNA expression of immune genes by real time RT-PCR. Pathological changes were only observed in the pancreas and heart (target organs) of both IM and CO groups, with changes appearing first in the pancreas (2 wpi) in the former. Lesions with increasing severity over time coincided with high viral loads despite significant induction of IFN-α, Mx and ISG15. IFN-γ and MHC-I were expressed in all tissues examined and their induction appeared in parallel with that of IL-10. Inflammatory genes TNF-α, IL-12 and IL-8 were only induced in the heart during pathology while T cell-related genes CD3ε, CD4, CD8, TCR-α and MHC-II were expressed in target organs at 8 wpi. These findings suggest that the onset of innate responses came too late to limit virus replication. Furthermore, SAV-3 infections in Atlantic salmon induce Th1/cytotoxic responses in common with other alphaviruses infecting higher vertebrates. Our findings demonstrate that SAV-3 can be transmitted via the water making it suitable for a cohabitation challenge model.