Identification of MHCII variants associated with chlamydial disease in the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus).
ABSTRACT: Chlamydiosis, the most common infectious disease in koalas, can cause chronic urogenital tract fibrosis and infertility. High titres of serum immunoglobulin G against 10 kDa and 60 kDa chlamydial heat-shock proteins (c-hsp10 and c-hsp60) are associated with fibrous occlusion of the koala uterus and uterine tube. Murine and human studies have identified associations between specific major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII) alleles or genotypes, and higher c-hsp 60 antibody levels or chlamydia-associated disease and infertility. In this study, we characterised partial MHCII DAB and DBB genes in female koalas (n = 94) from a single geographic population, and investigated associations among antibody responses to c-hsp60 quantified by ELISA, susceptibility to chlamydial infection, or age. The identification of three candidate MHCII variants provides additional support for the functional role of MHCII in the koala, and will inform more focused future studies. This is the first study to investigate an association between MHC genes with chlamydial pathogenesis in a non-model, free-ranging species.
Project description:Major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII) genes code for proteins that bind and present antigenic peptides and trigger the adaptive immune response. We present a broad geographical study of MHCII DA ?1 (DAB) and DB ?1 (DBB) variants of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus; n=191) from 12 populations across eastern Australia, with a total of 13 DAB and 7 DBB variants found. We identified greater MHCII variation and, possibly, additional gene copies in koala populations in the north (Queensland and New South Wales) relative to the south (Victoria), confirmed by STRUCTURE analyses and genetic differentiation using analysis of molecular variance. The higher MHCII diversity in the north relative to south could potentially be attributed to (i) significant founder effect in Victorian populations linked to historical translocation of bottlenecked koala populations and (ii) increased pathogen-driven balancing selection and/or local genetic drift in the north. Low MHCII genetic diversity in koalas from the south could reduce their potential response to disease, although the three DAB variants found in the south had substantial sequence divergence between variants. This study assessing MHCII diversity in the koala with historical translocations in some populations contributes to understanding the effects of population translocations on functional genetic diversity.
Project description:Debilitating infectious diseases caused by Chlamydia are major contributors to the decline of Australia's iconic native marsupial species, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). An understanding of koala chlamydial disease pathogenesis and the development of effective strategies to control infections continue to be hindered by an almost complete lack of species-specific immunological reagents. The cell-mediated immune response has been shown to play an influential role in the response to chlamydial infection in other hosts. The objective of this study, hence, was to provide preliminary data on the role of two key cytokines, pro-inflammatory tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF?) and anti-inflammatory interleukin 10 (IL10), in the koala Chlamydia pecorum response. Utilising sequence homology between the cytokine sequences obtained from several recently sequenced marsupial genomes, this report describes the first mRNA sequences of any koala cytokine and the development of koala specific TNF? and IL10 real-time PCR assays to measure the expression of these genes from koala samples. In preliminary studies comparing wild koalas with overt chlamydial disease, previous evidence of C. pecorum infection or no signs of C. pecorum infection, we revealed strong but variable expression of TNF? and IL10 in wild koalas with current signs of chlamydiosis. The description of these assays and the preliminary data on the cell-mediated immune response of koalas to chlamydial infection paves the way for future studies characterising the koala immune response to a range of its pathogens while providing reagents to assist with measuring the efficacy of ongoing attempts to develop a koala chlamydial vaccine.
Project description:Chlamydia pecorum is responsible for causing ocular infection and disease which can lead to blindness in koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). Antibiotics are the current treatment for chlamydial infection and disease in koalas, however, they can be detrimental for the koala's gastrointestinal tract microbiota and in severe cases, can lead to dysbiosis and death. In this study, we evaluated the therapeutic effects provided by a recombinant chlamydial major outer membrane protein (MOMP) vaccine on ocular disease in koalas. Koalas with ocular disease (unilateral or bilateral) were vaccinated and assessed for six weeks, evaluating any changes to the conjunctival tissue and discharge. Samples were collected pre- and post-vaccination to evaluate both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses. We further assessed the infecting C. pecorum genotype, host MHC class II alleles and presence of koala retrovirus type (KoRV-B). Our results clearly showed an improvement in the clinical ocular disease state of all seven koalas, post-vaccination. We observed increases in ocular mucosal IgA antibodies to whole C. pecorum elementary bodies, post-vaccination. We found that systemic cell-mediated immune responses to interferon-?, interleukin-6 and interleukin-17A were not significantly predictive of ocular disease in koalas. Interestingly, one koala did not have as positive a clinical response (in one eye primarily) and this koala was infected with a C. pecorum genotype (E') that was not used as part of the vaccine formula (MOMP genotypes A, F and G). The predominant MHC class II alleles identified were DAb*19, DAb*21 and DBb*05, with no two koalas identified with the same genetic sequence. Additionally, KoRV-B, which is associated with chlamydial disease outcome, was identified in two (29%) ocular diseased koalas, which still produced vaccine-induced immune responses and clinical ocular improvements post-vaccination. Our findings show promise for the use of a recombinant chlamydial MOMP vaccine for the therapeutic treatment of ocular disease in koalas.
Project description:Chlamydial disease threatens many of Australia's koala populations, and yet our understanding of chlamydial epidemiology and disease dynamics in koalas is limited by a lack of comprehensive, longitudinal population studies. To address this, we utilised longitudinal samples from a large-scale population study of wild koalas in south-east Queensland, to follow chlamydial infections over time and to investigate some of the drivers of disease progression. Our findings show, firstly, that almost two thirds of chlamydial infections progressed to disease, challenging the notion that chlamydial infections in koalas commonly remain chronic and asymptomatic. Secondly, disease progression at the urogenital tract site was associated with infection load, and urogenital tract shedding was significantly higher when koalas acquired a new infection. Thirdly, chronic chlamydial exposure was not necessary for pathogenic sequelae to develop, such as infertility and mortality. Fourthly, ompA-characterised strain sub-types may reflect tissue tropisms and pathogenicity, and the chlamydial status of some chronically infected koalas may be explained by reinfections with novel genotypes. Finally, successful antimicrobial treatment provided only short-term protection against reinfection and disease progression in susceptible koalas. These findings highlight the importance of identifying and preventing chlamydial infections in koalas, informing new population management strategies and research priorities.
Project description:The virulence of chlamydial infection in wild koalas is highly variable between individuals. Some koalas can be infected (PCR positive) with Chlamydia for long periods but remain asymptomatic, whereas others develop clinical disease. Chlamydia in the koala has traditionally been studied without regard to coinfection with other pathogens, although koalas are usually subject to infection with koala retrovirus (KoRV). Retroviruses can be immunosuppressive, and there is evidence of an immunosuppressive effect of KoRV in vitro. Originally thought to be a single endogenous strain, a new, potentially more virulent exogenous variant (KoRV-B) was recently reported. We hypothesized that KoRV-B might significantly alter chlamydial disease outcomes in koalas, presumably via immunosuppression. By studying sub-groups of Chlamydia and KoRV infected koalas in the wild, we found that neither total KoRV load (either viraemia or proviral copies per genome), nor chlamydial infection level or strain type, was significantly associated with chlamydial disease risk. However, PCR positivity with KoRV-B was significantly associated with chlamydial disease in koalas (p?=?0.02961). This represents an example of a recently evolved virus variant that may be predisposing its host (the koala) to overt clinical disease when co-infected with an otherwise asymptomatic bacterial pathogen (Chlamydia).
Project description:Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), an iconic Australian marsupial, are being heavily impacted by the spread of Chlamydia pecorum, an obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen. Koalas vary in their response to this pathogen, with some showing no symptoms, while others suffer severe symptoms leading to infertility, blindness or death. Little is known about the pathology of this disease and the immune response against it in this host. Studies have demonstrated that natural killer (NK) cells, key components of the innate immune system, are involved in the immune response to chlamydial infections in humans. These cells can directly lyse cells infected by intracellular pathogens and their ability to recognise these infected cells is mediated through NK receptors on their surface. These are encoded in two regions of the genome, the leukocyte receptor complex (LRC) and the natural killer complex (NKC). These two families evolve rapidly and different repertoires of genes, which have evolved by gene duplication, are seen in different species.In this study we aimed to characterise genes belonging to the NK receptor clusters in the koala by searching available koala transcriptomes using a combination of search methods. We developed a qPCR assay to quantify relative expression of four genes, two encoded within the NK receptor cluster (CLEC1B, CLEC4E) and two known to play a role in NK response to Chalmydia in humans (NCR3, PRF1).We found that the NK receptor repertoire of the koala closely resembles that of the Tasmanian devil, with minimal genes in the NKC, but with lineage specific expansions in the LRC. Additional genes important for NK cell activity, NCR3 and PRF1, were also identified and characterised. In a preliminary study to investigate whether these genes are involved in the koala immune response to infection by its chlamydial pathogen, C. pecorum, we investigated the expression of four genes in koalas with active chlamydia infection, those with past infection and those without infection using qPCR. This analysis revealed that one of these four, CLEC4E, may be upregulated in response to chlamydia infection.We have characterised genes of the NKC and LRC in koalas and have discovered evidence that one of these genes may be upregulated in koalas with chlamydia, suggesting that these receptors may play a role in the immune response of koalas to chlamydia infection.
Project description:Chlamydial disease continues to be one of the main factors threatening the long-term survival of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Despite this, large epidemiological studies of chlamydial infection and disease in wild koala populations are lacking. A better understanding of the prevalence, transmission and pathogenesis is needed to improve control measures, such as the development of vaccines. We investigated the prevalence of Chlamydia pecorum infection and disease in 160 koalas in a peri-urban wild population in Queensland, Australia and found that 31% of koalas were Chlamydia PCR positive and 28% had clinically detectable chlamydial disease. Most infections were at the urogenital site (27%; both males and females) with only 14% at the ocular site. Interestingly, we found that 27% (4/15) of koalas considered to be sexually immature (9-13 months) were already infected with C. pecorum, suggesting that a significant percentage of animals are infected directly from their mother. Ocular infection levels were less prevalent with increasing age (8% in koalas older than 4 years), whereas the prevalence of urogenital tract infections remained high into older age (26% in koalas older than 4 years), suggesting that, after mother-to-young transmission, C. pecorum is predominantly a sexually transmitted infection. While 28% of koalas in this population had clinically detectable chlamydial disease (primarily urogenital tract disease), many PCR positive koalas had no detectable disease and importantly, not all diseased animals were PCR positive. We also observed higher chlamydial loads in koalas who were C. pecorum infected without clinical disease than in koalas who were C. pecorum infected with clinical disease. These results shed light on the potential mechanisms of transmission of C. pecorum in koalas and also guide future control measures, such as vaccination.
Project description:Disease caused by Chlamydia pecorum is characterised by ocular and urogenital infections that can lead to blindness and infertility in koalas. However, koalas that are infected with C. pecorum do not always progress to disease. In other host systems, the influence of the microbiota has been implicated in either accelerating or preventing infections progressing to disease. This study investigates the contribution of koala urogenital and ocular microbiota to Chlamydia infection and disease in a free ranging koala population. Using univariate and multivariate analysis, it was found that reproductive status in females and sexual maturation in males, were defining features in the koala urogenital microbiota. Changes in the urogenital microbiota of koalas is correlated with infection by the common pathogen, C. pecorum. The correlation of microbiota composition and C. pecorum infection is suggestive of members of the microbiota being involved in the acceleration or prevention of infections progressing to disease. The analysis also suggests that multiple microbes are likely to be associated with this process of disease progression, rather than a single organism. While other Chlamydia-like organisms were also detected, they are unlikely to contribute to chlamydial disease as they are rare members of the urogenital and ocular microbiota communities.
Project description:Chlamydia pecorum is a mucosal infection, which causes debilitating disease of the urinary tract, reproductive tract and ocular sites of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). While antibiotics are available for treatment, they are detrimental to the koalas' gastrointestinal tract microflora leaving the implementation of a vaccine as an ideal option for the long-term management of koala populations. We have previously reported on the successes of an anti-chlamydial recombinant major outer membrane protein (rMOMP) vaccine however, recombinant protein based vaccines are not ideal candidates for scale up from the research level to small-medium production level for wider usage. Peptide based vaccines are a promising area for vaccine development, because peptides are stable, cost effective and easily produced. In this current study, we assessed, for the first time, the immune responses to a synthetic peptide based anti-chlamydial vaccine in koalas. Five healthy male koalas were vaccinated with two synthetic peptides derived from C. pecorum MOMP and another five healthy male koalas were vaccinated with full length recombinant C. pecorum MOMP (genotype G). Systemic (IgG) and mucosal (IgA) antibodies were quantified and pre-vaccination levels compared to post-vaccination levels (12 and 26 weeks). MOMP-peptide vaccinated koalas produced Chlamydia-specific IgG and IgA antibodies, which were able to recognise not only the genotype used in the vaccination, but also MOMPs from several other koala C. pecorum genotypes. In addition, IgA antibodies induced at the ocular site not only recognised recombinant MOMP protein but also, whole native chlamydial elementary bodies. Interestingly, some MOMP-peptide vaccinated koalas showed a stronger and more sustained vaccine-induced mucosal IgA antibody response than observed in MOMP-protein vaccinated koalas. These results demonstrate that a synthetic MOMP peptide based vaccine is capable of inducing a Chlamydia-specific antibody response in koalas and is a promising candidate for future vaccine development.
Project description:Koala populations are in catastrophic decline in certain eastern Australian regions. Spanning from 1997-2013, a database derived from wildlife hospitals in southeast Queensland with N?=?20,250 entries was classified by causes of morbidity and mortality. A total of 11 aetiologies were identified, with chlamydiosis, trauma, and wasting being most common. The clinical diagnosis at submission varied significantly over the observation period. Combinations of aetiologies were observed in 39% of koalas submitted, with chlamydiosis frequently co-occurring. Urogenital (cystitis 26.8%, bursitis 13.5%) and ocular (conjunctivitis 17.2%) chlamydiosis were the most frequently diagnosed representations of the infection. Approximately 26% of submissions comprised koalas involved in vehicle accidents that were otherwise healthy. Age and sex of the koala as well as season and submission period were compared for the case outcomes of 'dead on arrival', 'euthanized', or 'released' for the four most common clinical diagnoses using multinomial logistic regression models. Exploratory space-time permutation scans were performed and overlapping space-time clusters for chlamydiosis, motor vehicle traumas and wasting unveiled high risk areas for koala disease and injury. Our results suggest that these aetiologies are acting jointly as multifactorial determinants for the continuing decline of koalas.