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Changing expression of vertebrate immunity genes in an anthropogenic environment: a controlled experiment
Hablützel, P.I.; Brown, M.; Friberg, I.M.; Jackson, J.A. (2016). Changing expression of vertebrate immunity genes in an anthropogenic environment: a controlled experiment. BMC Evol. Biol. 16(1): 175.
In: BMC Evolutionary Biology. BioMed Central: London. ISSN 1471-2148; e-ISSN 1471-2148, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Fresh water
Author keywords
    Anthropogenic habitats - Gene expression – Vertebrate – Immunity – Immunoregulation - Seasonality

Authors  Top 
  • Hablützel, P.I., more
  • Brown, M.
  • Friberg, I.M.
  • Jackson, J.A.

    BackgroundThe effect of anthropogenic environments on the function of the vertebrate immune system is a problem of general importance. For example, it relates to the increasing rates of immunologically-based disease in modern human populations and to the desirability of identifying optimal immune function in domesticated animals. Despite this importance, our present understanding is compromised by a deficit of experimental studies that make adequately matched comparisons between wild and captive vertebrates.ResultsWe transferred post-larval fishes (three-spined sticklebacks), collected in the wild, to an anthropogenic (captive) environment. We then monitored, over 11 months, how the systemic expression of immunity genes changed in comparison to cohort-matched wild individuals in the originator population (total n = 299). We found that a range of innate (lyz, defbl2, il1r-like, tbk1) and adaptive (cd8a, igmh) immunity genes were up-regulated in captivity, accompanied by an increase in expression of the antioxidant enzyme, gpx4a. For some genes previously known to show seasonality in the wild, this appeared to be reduced in captive fishes. Captive fishes tended to express immunity genes, including igzh, foxp3b, lyz, defbl2, and il1r-like, more variably. Furthermore, although gene co-expression patterns (analyzed through gene-by-gene correlations and mutual information theory based networks) shared common structure in wild and captive fishes, there was also significant divergence. For one gene in particular, defbl2, high expression was associated with adverse health outcomes in captive fishes.ConclusionTaken together, these results demonstrate widespread regulatory changes in the immune system in captive populations, and that the expression of immunity genes is more constrained in the wild. An increase in constitutive systemic immune activity, such as we observed here, may alter the risk of immunopathology and contribute to variance in health in vertebrate populations exposed to anthropogenic environments.

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