Outbreaks of columnaris disease (Flavobacterium columnare) are common in wild and cultured freshwater fish worldwide. Disease occurrences, particularly those caused by virulent genomovar II isolates, in aquaculture species such as channel catfish can be devastating. In contrast to other important aquaculture pathogens, little is known about host immune responses to columnaris. Adhesion of F. columnare to gill tissue has been correlated in some previous studies to virulence and host susceptibility. Here, therefore, we conducted the first transcriptomic profiling of host responses to columnaris following an experimental challenge. We utilized Illumina-based RNA-seq expression profiling to examine transcript profiles at three timepoints (4h, 24h, and 48h) in catfish gill after bath immersion infection. Enrichment and pathway analyses of the differentially expressed genes revealed several central signatures following infection. These included the dramatic upregulation of a rhamnose-binding lectin, with putative roles in bacterial attachment and aggregation, suppression of NF-κB signalling via IκBs, BCL-3, TAX1BP1, and olfactomedin 4, and strong induction of IFN-inducible responses including iNOS2b, IFI44, and VHSV genes. Fifteen differentially expressed genes with varying expression profiles by RNA-seq, were validated by QPCR (correlation coefficients 0.85-0.94, p-value <0.001). Our results highlight several putative immune pathways and individual candidate genes deserving of further investigation in the context of development of therapeutic regimens and laying the foundation for selection of resistant catfish lines against columnaris.
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