Neural transcriptomic signature of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer

BMC Genomics. 2022 Jan 21;23(1):69. doi: 10.1186/s12864-022-08306-0.


Background: The increasing prevalence and expanding geographical range of the chronic wasting disease (CWD) panzootic in cervids is threatening human, animal, environmental and economic health. The pathogenesis of CWD in cervids is, however, not well understood. We used RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to compare the brain transcriptome from white-tailed deer (WTD; Odocoileus virginianus) clinically affected with CWD (n = 3) to WTD that tested negative (n = 8) for CWD. In addition, one preclinical CWD+ brain sample was analyzed by RNA-seq.

Results: We found 255 genes that were significantly deregulated by CWD, 197 of which were upregulated. There was a high degree of overlap in differentially expressed genes (DEGs) identified when using either/both the reference genome assembly of WTD for mapping sequenced reads to or the better characterized genome assembly of a closely related model species, Bos taurus. Quantitative PCR of a subset of the DEGs confirmed the RNA-seq data. Gene ontology term enrichment analysis found a majority of genes involved in immune activation, consistent with the neuroinflammatory pathogenesis of prion diseases. A metagenomic analysis of the RNA-seq data was conducted to look for the presence of spiroplasma and other bacteria in CWD infected deer brain tissue.

Conclusions: The gene expression changes identified highlight the role of innate immunity in prion infection, potential disease associated biomarkers and potential targets for therapeutic agents. An association between CWD and spiroplasma infection was not found.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Deer* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Prions*
  • Transcriptome
  • Wasting Disease, Chronic* / genetics


  • Prions

Supplementary concepts

  • Odocoileus virginianus