The immune response of ruminants to Johne's disease has been long associated with a cell mediated immune (CMI) response in the early stages of infection with a switch to an antibody response later as the disease manifests. This study examines the immune response in sheep to Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map) infections, specifically the antigen-specific interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and antibody responses as surrogates of T helper-1 (Th1) and Th2 immunity. The difference in IFN-γ production between paucibacillary and multibacillary diseased animals was also examined. The results show that sheep are more likely to have a combined antibody and IFN-γ response (seen in 50% of the animals) rather than a switch from an IFN-γ to antibody response (39%). Multibacillary diseased animals were found to have a decrease in functional ability to produce IFN-γ from cells stimulated with MAP-specific antigens and non-specific mitogens. This indicates that the immune responses to Map infections are more complex than thought, where both antibody and cellular immunity may play key roles in the early stages of disease manifestation or resistance. The loss of the cellular response in multibacillary animals may be an indication that the entire immune response is dysfunctional, with the cell mediated responses becoming affected first.
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