White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease responsible for decimating many bat populations in North America. Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the psychrophilic fungus responsible for WNS, prospers in the winter habitat of many hibernating bat species. The immune response that Pd elicits in bats is not yet fully understood; antibodies are produced in response to infection by Pd, but they may not be protective and indeed may be harmful. To understand how bats respond to infection during hibernation, we studied the effect of Pd inoculation on the survival and gene expression of captive hibernating Myotis lucifugus with varying pre-hibernation antifungal antibody titres. We investigated gene expression through the transcription of selected cytokine genes (Il6, Il17a, Il1b, Il4 and Ifng) associated with inflammatory, Th1, Th2 and Th17 immune responses in wing tissue and lymph nodes. We found no difference in survival between bats with low and high anti-Pd titres, although anti-Pd antibody production during hibernation differed significantly between infected and uninfected bats. Transcription of Il6 and Il17a was higher in the lymph nodes of infected bats compared with uninfected bats. Increased transcription of these cytokines in the lymph node suggests that a pro-inflammatory immune response to WNS is not restricted to infected tissues and occurs during hibernation. The resulting Th17 response may be protective in euthermic bats, but because it may disrupt torpor, it could be detrimental during hibernation.
Keywords: Pseudogymnoascus destructans; bats; cytokines; fungal infection; gene expression; wildlife disease.
© 2017 The Author(s).