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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Discovery of genes implicated in whirling disease infection and resistance in rainbow trout using genome-wide expression profiling

Melinda R Baerwald1*, Amy B Welsh2, Ronald P Hedrick3 and Bernie May1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal Science, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, USA

2 Department of Biological Sciences, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY USA

3 Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, USA

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:37  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-37

Published: 24 January 2008



Whirling disease, caused by the pathogen Myxobolus cerebralis, afflicts several salmonid species. Rainbow trout are particularly susceptible and may suffer high mortality rates. The disease is persistent and spreading in hatcheries and natural waters of several countries, including the U.S.A., and the economic losses attributed to whirling disease are substantial. In this study, genome-wide expression profiling using cDNA microarrays was conducted for resistant Hofer and susceptible Trout Lodge rainbow trout strains following pathogen exposure with the primary objective of identifying specific genes implicated in whirling disease resistance.


Several genes were significantly up-regulated in skin following pathogen exposure for both the resistant and susceptible rainbow trout strains. For both strains, response to infection appears to be linked with the interferon system. Expression profiles for three genes identified with microarrays were confirmed with qRT-PCR. Ubiquitin-like protein 1 was up-regulated over 100 fold and interferon regulating factor 1 was up-regulated over 15 fold following pathogen exposure for both strains. Expression of metallothionein B, which has known roles in inflammation and immune response, was up-regulated over 5 fold in the resistant Hofer strain but was unchanged in the susceptible Trout Lodge strain following pathogen exposure.


The present study has provided an initial view into the genetic basis underlying immune response and resistance of rainbow trout to the whirling disease parasite. The identified genes have allowed us to gain insight into the molecular mechanisms implicated in salmonid immune response and resistance to whirling disease infection.