Edinburgh Infectious Diseases researchers receive grant from BBSRC Animal Health Research Club to study Eimeria resistance in chickens

Many congratulations to Profs Pete Kaiser and Steve Bishop at the Roslin Institute, and members of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, who have been awarded a grant from the BBSRC Animal Health Research Club to study disease resistance in chickens. 

The grant has been awarded jointly to the Roslin researchers and to Dr Damer Blake and Professor Fiona Tomley based at the Royal Veterinary College, London - more than £465k of the award will come to Edinburgh.

Coccidiosis and the genetics of resistance to Eimeria

Coccidiosis is a parasitic infection of the intestinal tract causing impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients.  In chickens coccidiosis is caused by the protozoan parasite Eimeria.  One of the main underpinning factors for a profitable large-scale poultry industry is the fact that coccidiosis is controlled primarily through the use of drugs, or coccidiostats.  Vaccines do exist, but these are currently primarily produced by passage of Eimeria through birds and therefore not a cheap nor practical solution to replace coccidostats.

Resistance to Eimeria infection has long been known in inbred lines of chickens, but attempts to map this have been largely unsuccessful. Chromosomes associated with resistance have been identified, but the precise genes involved are not known.  Differential responses to vaccines have also been described, presumably due to similar mechanisms, although this has yet to be formally proven.

L to R:  Pete Kaiser, Steve Bishop, Eimeria oocysts, broiler chicken

With this new grant the researchers now plan to revisit mapping disease resistance and differential responses to vaccines, in a genome-wide association study using modern techniques, to identify genes or loci associated with resistance to infection with Eimeria.

Immune response to Eimeria infection

In a second aspect of the work funded by the grant, the researchers will examine the immune response of the chicken to infection with Eimeria

The adaptive immune response is responsible for clearing pathogens causing infection, and delivers immunological memory against reinfection. For many years, the adaptive immune response has been split into two arms, Th1 and Th2, each involving a different subset of CD4+ T helper cells.  It is well established that infection with Eimeria, an obligate intracellular pathogen, requires a strong inflammatory Th1 response to clear it. 

Until now little has been done to investigate the role, if any, of other T cell subsets.  However the teams at Roslin and the Royal Veterinary College will now begin a more detailed investigation of the adaptive immune response in both the response to primary Eimeria infection and to vaccination, with the expectation that this will lead to novel tools to define disease biomarkers and phenotypes.

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