Gene expression reveals immune response strategies of naïve Hawaiian honeycreepers experimentally infected with introduced avian malaria

J Hered. 2023 Jun 22;114(4):326-340. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esad017.


The unprecedented rise in the number of new and emerging infectious diseases in the last quarter century poses direct threats to human and wildlife health. The introduction to the Hawaiian archipelago of Plasmodium relictum and the mosquito vector that transmits the parasite has led to dramatic losses in endemic Hawaiian forest bird species. Understanding how mechanisms of disease immunity to avian malaria may evolve is critical as climate change facilitates increased disease transmission to high elevation habitats where malaria transmission has historically been low and the majority of the remaining extant Hawaiian forest bird species now reside. Here, we compare the transcriptomic profiles of highly susceptible Hawai'i 'amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) experimentally infected with P. relictum to those of uninfected control birds from a naïve high elevation population. We examined changes in gene expression profiles at different stages of infection to provide an in-depth characterization of the molecular pathways contributing to survival or mortality in these birds. We show that the timing and magnitude of the innate and adaptive immune response differed substantially between individuals that survived and those that succumbed to infection, and likely contributed to the observed variation in survival. These results lay the foundation for developing gene-based conservation strategies for Hawaiian honeycreepers by identifying candidate genes and cellular pathways involved in the pathogen response that correlate with a bird's ability to recover from malaria infection.

Keywords: Hawaiian honeycreepers; Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi; avian malaria; gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression
  • Hawaii / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Malaria, Avian* / epidemiology
  • Malaria, Avian* / genetics
  • Malaria, Avian* / parasitology
  • Passeriformes* / genetics

Associated data

  • figshare/10.25573/data.22096553