Background: Our laboratories have previously reported on the experimental infection of cattle with Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis (M. paratuberculosis) using an intratonsillar infection model. In addition, we have recently developed a partial protein array representing 92 M. paratuberculosis coding sequences. These combined tools have enabled a unique look at the temporal analysis of M. paratuberculosis antigens within the native host. The primary objective of this study was to identify M. paratuberculosis antigens detected by cattle early during infection. A secondary objective was to evaluate the humoral immune response in cattle during the initial year of infection.
Results: Sera from two experimentally infected cattle, taken pre-inoculation and at day 70, 194 and 321 post infection, identified dynamic antibody reactivity among antigens with some showing an increased response over time and others showing declining levels of reactivity over the same time period. A M. paratuberculosis specific protein, encoded by MAP0862, was strongly detected initially, but the antibody response became weaker with time. The most reactive protein was a putative surface antigen encoded by MAP1087. A second protein, MAP1204, implicated in virulence, was also strongly detected by day 70 in both cattle. Subsequent experiments showed that these two proteins were detected with sera from 5 of 9 naturally infected cattle in the subclinical stage of Johne's disease.
Conclusion: Collectively these results demonstrate that M. paratuberculosis proteins are detected by sera from experimentally infected cattle as early as 70 days after exposure. These data further suggest at least two antigens may be useful in the early diagnosis of M. paratuberculosis infections. Finally, the construction and use of a protein array in this pilot study has led to a novel approach for discovery of M. paratuberculosis antigens.