Expression profiles of the immune genes CD4, CD8β, IFNγ, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10 in mitogen-stimulated koala lymphocytes (Phascolarctos cinereus) by qRT-PCR

PeerJ. 2014 Mar 4:2:e280. doi: 10.7717/peerj.280. eCollection 2014.


Investigation of the immune response of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is needed urgently, but has been limited by scarcity of species-specific reagents and methods for this unique and divergent marsupial. Infectious disease is an important threat to wild populations of koalas; the most widespread and important of these is Chlamydial disease, caused by Chlamydia pecorum and Chlamydia pneumoniae. In addition, koala retrovirus (KoRV), which is of 100% prevalence in northern Australia, has been proposed as an important agent of immune suppression that could explain the koala's susceptibility to disease. The correct balance of T regulatory, T helper 1 (Th1) and Th2 lymphocyte responses are important to an individual's susceptibility or resistance to chlamydial infection. The ability to study chlamydial or KoRV pathogenesis, effects of environmental stressors on immunity, and the response of koalas to vaccines under development, by examining the koala's adaptive response to natural infection or in-vitro stimulation, has been limited to date by a paucity of species- specific reagents. In this study we have used cytokine sequences from four marsupial genomes to identify mRNA sequences for key T regulatory, Th1 and Th2 cytokines interleukin 4 (IL-4), interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 10 (IL-10) and interferon gamma (IFNγ) along with CD4 and CD8β. The koala sequences used for primer design showed >58% homology with grey short-tailed opossum, >71% with tammar wallaby and 78% with Tasmanian devil amino acid sequences. We report the development of real-time RT-PCR assays to measure the expression of these genes in unstimulated cells and after three common mitogen stimulation protocols (phorbol myristate acetate/ionomycin, phorbol myristate acetate/phytohemagglutinin and concanavalin A). Phorbol myristate acetate/ionomycin was found to be the most effective mitogen to up-regulate the production of IL-4, IL-10 and IFNγ. IL-6 production was not consistently up-regulated by any of the protocols. Expression of CD4 and CD8β was down-regulated by mitogen stimulation. We found that the reference genes GAPDH and 28s are valid for normalising cytokine expression by koala lymphocytes after mitogen stimulation.

Keywords: Chlamydia; Cytokine; Immunology; KoRV; Koala; Marsupial; Mitogen stimulation; Wildife disease.

Grants and funding

This work was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant, in collaboration with the University of Queensland and supported by Australia Zoo/Wildlife Warriors Worldwide Ltd and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service as partners The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.