Epidemiology of chlamydial infection and disease in a free-ranging koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) population.
ABSTRACT: 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:BACKGROUND:Chlamydia infects multiple sites within hosts, including the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). In certain hosts, gastrointestinal infection is linked to treatment avoidance and self-infection at disease susceptible sites. GIT C. pecorum has been detected in livestock and koalas, however GIT prevalence rates within the koala are yet to be established. METHODS:Paired conjunctival, urogenital and rectal samples from 33 koalas were screened for C. pecorum and C. pecorum plasmid using 16S rRNA and CDS5-specific quantitative PCR assays, respectively. Amplicon sequencing of 359 bp ompA fragment was used to identify site-specific genotypes. RESULTS:The overall C. pecorum prevalence collectively (healthy and clinically diseased koalas) was 51.5%, 57.6% and 42.4% in urogenital, conjunctival and gastrointestinal sites, respectively. Concurrent urogenital and rectal Chlamydia was identified in 14 koalas, with no cases of GIT only Chlamydia shedding. The ompA genotype G dominated the GIT positive samples, and genotypes A and E' were dominant in urogenital tract (UGT) positive samples. Increases in C. pecorum plasmid per C. pecorum load (detected by PCR) showed clustering in the clinically diseased koala group (as assessed by scatter plot analysis). There was also a low correlation between plasmid positivity and C. pecorum infected animals at any site, with a prevalence of 47% UGT, 36% rectum and 40% faecal pellet. CONCLUSIONS:GIT C. pecorum PCR positivity suggests that koala GIT C. pecorum infections are common and occur regularly in animals with concurrent genital tract infections. GIT dominant genotypes were identified and do not appear to be related to plasmid positivity. Preliminary results indicated a possible association between C. pecorum plasmid load and clinical UGT disease.
Project description:Diseases associated with Chlamydia pecorum infection are a major cause of decline in koala populations in Australia. While koalas in care can generally be treated, a vaccine is considered the only option to effectively reduce the threat of infection and disease at the population level. In the current study, we vaccinated 30 free-ranging koalas with a prototype Chlamydia pecorum vaccine consisting of a recombinant chlamydial MOMP adjuvanted with an immune stimulating complex. An additional cohort of 30 animals did not receive any vaccine and acted as comparison controls. Animals accepted into this study were either uninfected (Chlamydia PCR negative) at time of initial vaccination, or infected (C. pecorum positive) at either urogenital (UGT) and/or ocular sites (Oc), but with no clinical signs of chlamydial disease. All koalas were vaccinated/sampled and then re-released into their natural habitat before re-capturing and re-sampling at 6 and 12 months. All vaccinated koalas produced a strong immune response to the vaccine, as indicated by high titres of specific plasma antibodies. The incidence of new infections in vaccinated koalas over the 12-month period post-vaccination was slightly less than koalas in the control group, however, this was not statistically significant. Importantly though, the vaccine was able to significantly reduce the infectious load in animals that were Chlamydia positive at the time of vaccination. This effect was evident at both the Oc and UGT sites and was stronger at 6 months than at 12 months post-vaccination. Finally, the vaccine was also able to reduce the number of animals that progressed to disease during the 12-month period. While the sample sizes were small (statistically speaking), results were nonetheless striking. This study highlights the potential for successful development of a Chlamydia vaccine for koalas in a wild setting.
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: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: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: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) are iconic Australian marsupials currently threatened by several processes, including infectious diseases and ecological disruption. Infection with Chlamydia pecorum, is considered a key driver of population decline. The clinical sign of 'wet bottom', a staining of the rump associated with urinary incontinence, is often caused by chlamydial urinary tract infections. However, wet bottom has been recorded in koalas free of C. pecorum, suggesting other causative agents in those individuals. We used 16S rRNA diversity profiling to investigate the microbiome of the urogenital tract of ten female koalas in order to identify potential causative agents of wet bottom, other than C. pecorum. Five urogenital samples were processed from koalas presenting with wet bottom and five were clinically normal. All koalas were negative for C. pecorum infection. We detected thirteen phyla across the ten samples, with Firmicutes occurring at the highest relative abundance (77.6%). The order Lactobacillales, within the Firmicutes, comprised 70.3% of the reads from all samples. After normalising reads using DESeq2 and testing for significant differences (P < 0.05), there were 25 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) more commonly found in one group over the other. The families Aerococcaceae and Tissierellaceae both had four significantly differentially abundant OTUs. These four Tissierellaceae OTUs were all significantly more abundant in koalas with wet bottom. This study provides the foundation for future investigations of causes of koala wet bottom, other than C. pecorum infection. This is of clinical relevance as wet bottom is often assumed to be caused by C. pecorum and treated accordingly. Our research highlights that other organisms may be causing wet bottom, and these potential aetiological agents need to be further investigated to fully address the problems this species faces.
Project description:Chlamydia pecorum is an important global pathogen of livestock, and it is also a significant threat to the long-term survival of Australia's koala populations. This study employed a culture-independent DNA capture approach to sequence C. pecorum genomes directly from clinical swab samples collected from koalas with chlamydial disease as well as from sheep with arthritis and conjunctivitis. Investigations into single-nucleotide polymorphisms within each of the swab samples revealed that a portion of the reads in each sample belonged to separate C. pecorum strains, suggesting that all of the clinical samples analyzed contained mixed populations of genetically distinct C. pecorum isolates. This observation was independent of the anatomical site sampled and the host species. Using the genomes of strains identified in each of these samples, whole-genome phylogenetic analysis revealed that a clade containing a bovine and a koala isolate is distinct from other clades comprised of livestock or koala C. pecorum strains. Providing additional evidence to support exposure of koalas to Australian livestock strains, two minor strains assembled from the koala swab samples clustered with livestock strains rather than koala strains. Culture-independent probe-based genome capture and sequencing of clinical samples provides the strongest evidence yet to suggest that naturally occurring chlamydial infections are comprised of multiple genetically distinct strains.