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Transcriptional profiling of cattle infected with Trypanosoma congolense highlights gene expression signatures underlying trypanotolerance and trypanosusceptibility

Grace M O'Gorman1, Stephen DE Park1, Emmeline W Hill1, Kieran G Meade2, Paul M Coussens3, Morris Agaba4, Jan Naessens4, Stephen J Kemp5 and David E MacHugh16*

Author Affiliations

1 Animal Genomics Laboratory, UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, UCD College of Life Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

2 Comparative Immunology Group, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

3 Department of Animal Science and Center for Animal Functional Genomics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

4 International Livestock Research Institute, Box 30709, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

5 School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZD, UK

6 UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

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BMC Genomics 2009, 10:207  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-207

Published: 1 May 2009



African animal trypanosomiasis (AAT) caused by tsetse fly-transmitted protozoa of the genus Trypanosoma is a major constraint on livestock and agricultural production in Africa and is among the top ten global cattle diseases impacting on the poor. Here we show that a functional genomics approach can be used to identify temporal changes in host peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) gene expression due to disease progression. We also show that major gene expression differences exist between cattle from trypanotolerant and trypanosusceptible breeds. Using bovine long oligonucleotide microarrays and real time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) validation we analysed PBMC gene expression in naïve trypanotolerant and trypanosusceptible cattle experimentally challenged with Trypanosoma congolense across a 34-day infection time course.


Trypanotolerant N'Dama cattle displayed a rapid and distinct transcriptional response to infection, with a ten-fold higher number of genes differentially expressed at day 14 post-infection compared to trypanosusceptible Boran cattle. These analyses identified coordinated temporal gene expression changes for both breeds in response to trypanosome infection. In addition, a panel of genes were identified that showed pronounced differences in gene expression between the two breeds, which may underlie the phenomena of trypanotolerance and trypanosusceptibility. Gene ontology (GO) analysis demonstrate that the products of these genes may contribute to increased mitochondrial mRNA translational efficiency, a more pronounced B cell response, an elevated activation status and a heightened response to stress in trypanotolerant cattle.


This study has revealed an extensive and diverse range of cellular processes that are altered temporally in response to trypanosome infection in African cattle. Results indicate that the trypanotolerant N'Dama cattle respond more rapidly and with a greater magnitude to infection compared to the trypanosusceptible Boran cattle. Specifically, a subset of the genes analyzed by real time qRT-PCR, which display significant breed differences, could collectively contribute to the trypanotolerance trait in N'Dama.