Dual Host and Pathogen RNA-Seq Analysis Unravels Chicken Genes Potentially Involved in Resistance to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Infection

Front Immunol. 2021 Dec 22;12:800188. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.800188. eCollection 2021.


Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) cause severe systemic disease and high mortality rates in chickens, leading to a huge economic impact in the poultry sector. However, some chickens are resistant to the disease. This study aimed at evaluating the mechanisms behind HPAIV disease resistance. Chickens of different breeds were challenged with H7N1 HPAIV or clade H5N8 HPAIV, euthanized at 3 days post-inoculation (dpi), and classified as resistant or susceptible depending on the following criteria: chickens that presented i) clinical signs, ii) histopathological lesions, and iii) presence of HPAIV antigen in tissues were classified as susceptible, while chickens lacking all these criteria were classified as resistant. Once classified, we performed RNA-Seq from lung and spleen samples in order to compare the transcriptomic signatures between resistant and susceptible chickens. We identified minor transcriptomic changes in resistant chickens in contrast with huge alterations observed in susceptible chickens. Interestingly, six differentially expressed genes were downregulated in resistant birds and upregulated in susceptible birds. Some of these genes belong to the NF-kappa B and/or mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways. Among these six genes, the serine protease-encoding gene PLAU was of particular interest, being the most significantly downregulated gene in resistant chickens. Expression levels of this protease were further validated by RT-qPCR in a larger number of experimentally infected chickens. Furthermore, HPAIV quasi-species populations were constructed using 3 dpi oral swabs. No substantial changes were found in the viral segments that interact with the innate immune response and with the host cell receptors, reinforcing the role of the immune system of the host in the clinical outcome. Altogether, our results suggest that an early inactivation of important host genes could prevent an exaggerated immune response and/or viral replication, conferring resistance to HPAIV in chickens.

Keywords: PLAU; RNA-Seq; avian influenza; chicken; genetic resistance; innate immune response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / genetics*
  • Chickens / virology*
  • Disease Resistance / genetics*
  • Influenza A Virus, H7N1 Subtype*
  • Influenza in Birds / genetics*
  • Influenza in Birds / virology
  • RNA-Seq