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Innate immune markers that distinguish red deer (Cervus elaphus) selected for resistant or susceptible genotypes for Johne’s disease

Brooke Dobson*, Simon Liggett, Rory O’Brien and J Frank T Griffin

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Disease Research Laboratory, 720 Cumberland St, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand

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Veterinary Research 2013, 44:5  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-44-5

Published: 24 January 2013


While many factors contribute to resistance and susceptibility to infectious disease, a major component is the genotype of the host and the way in which it is expressed. Johne’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease affecting ruminants and is caused by infection with Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP). We have previously identified red deer breeds (Cervus elaphus) that are resistant; have a low rate of MAP infection and do not progress to develop Johne’s disease. In contrast, susceptible breeds have a high rate of MAP infection as seen by seroconversion and progress to develop clinical Johne’s disease. The aim of this study was to determine if immunological differences exist between animals of resistant or susceptible breeds. Macrophage cultures were derived from the monocytes of deer genotypically defined as resistant or susceptible to the development of Johne’s disease. Following in vitro infection of the cells with MAP, the expression of candidate genes was assessed by quantitative PCR as well as infection rate and cell death rate. The results indicate that macrophages from susceptible animals show a significantly higher upregulation of inflammatory genes (iNOS, IL-1α, TNF-α and IL-23p19) than the macrophages from resistant animals. Cells from resistant animals had a higher rate of apoptosis at 24 hours post infection (hpi) compared to macrophages from susceptible animals. The excessive expression of inflammatory mRNA transcripts in susceptible animals could cause inefficient clearing of the mycobacterial organism and the establishment of disease. Controlled upregulation of inflammatory pathways coupled with programmed cell death in the macrophages of resistant animals may predispose the host to a protective immune response against this mycobacterial pathogen.