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Open Access Research article

Profile of whole blood gene expression following immune stimulation in a wild passerine

Richard Meitern1*, Reidar Andreson2 and Peeter Hõrak1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, Tartu University, Vanemuise 46, 51014 Tartu, Estonia

2 Department of Bioinformatics, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu, Riia 23, 51010 Tartu, Estonia

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:533  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-533

Published: 27 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Immunoecology aims to explain variation among hosts in the strength and efficacy of immunological defences in natural populations. This requires development of biomarkers of the activation of the immune system so that they can be collected non-lethally and sampled from small amounts of easily obtainable tissue. We used transcriptome profiling in wild greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) to detect whole blood transcripts that most profoundly indicate upregulation of antimicrobial defences during acute phase response. The more general aim of this study was to obtain a functional annotation of a substantial portion of the greenfinch transcriptome that would enable to gain access to more specific genomic tools in subsequent studies. The birds received either bacterial lipopolysaccharide or saline injections and RNA-seq transcriptional profiling was performed 12 h after treatment to provide initial functional annotation of the transcriptome and assess whole blood response to immune stimulation.

Results

A total of 66,084 transcripts were obtained from de novo Trinty assembly, out of which 23,153 could be functionally annotated. Only 1,911 of these were significantly upregulated or downregulated. The manipulation caused marked upregulation of several transcripts related to immune activation. These included avian-specific antimicrobial agents avidin and gallinacin, but also some more general host response genes, such as serum amyloid A protein, lymphocyte antigen 75 and copper-transporting ATPase 1. However, links with avian immunity for most differentially regulated transcripts remained rather hypothetical, as a large set of differentially expressed transcripts lacked functional annotation.

Conclusions

This appears to be the first large scale transcriptional profiling of immune function in passerine birds. The transcriptomic data obtained suggest novel markers for the assessment of the immunological state of wild passerines. Characterizing the function of those possible novel infection markers would assist future vertebrate genome annotation. The extensive sequence information collected enables to identify possible target and housekeeping genes needed to gain access to more specific genomic tools in future studies.