Research uncovers how chickens fight Marek’s Disease

23-11 | |
Researchers have discovered that immune cells, known as T cells, have distinct functions depending on the susceptibility of the birds to Marek's Disease. Photo: Peter Rook
Researchers have discovered that immune cells, known as T cells, have distinct functions depending on the susceptibility of the birds to Marek's Disease. Photo: Peter Rook

Scientists have identified key differences in the immune response of chickens that are resistant to Marek’s Disease and those that are not.

The research undertaken at The Pirbright Institute in Surrey could pave the way for the development of more effective vaccines against the disease.

In a recent paper published in Frontiers in Immunology, the researchers discovered that immune cells, known as T cells, had distinct functions depending on the susceptibility of the birds to disease. T cells are important in the adaptive immune response, which helps to protect against invading pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. The adaptive immune system has memory cells which can protect when the body detects the pathogen again.

The role of cytokines

Researchers found that T cells in chickens resistant to Marek’s Disease produce more IL-2 and IL-4 in response to the virus than those that are susceptible to the disease. IL-2 and IL-4 are chemicals, known as cytokines, released by the immune system to help it eliminate pathogens. This research shows that these cytokines play an important role in protecting poultry against Marek’s Disease.

In addition to cytokine responses, researchers discovered that T cells in chickens resistant to Marek’s Disease produce more granzyme B and perforin – proteins that are associated with killing infected cells, which suggests a link between the production of these 2 proteins and resistance to Marek’s Disease.

Function of cytotoxic T cells impaired

The study is also the first to report that Marek’s Disease impairs the function of cytotoxic T cells in naïve chickens (those that have never been infected with Marek’s Disease) regardless of their genetic resistance or susceptibility to the disease. Further research is required to explore this phenomenon as it may explain why current vaccines fail to prevent the spread of Marek’s disease virus.

Commenting on the research, Dr Shahriar Behboudi, head of the avian immunology group at Pirbright, said: “Understanding the different functions of T cell responses in chickens with different susceptibility to Marek’s Disease may lead to the development of novel effective vaccines which may inhibit virus replication and shedding. This would be an important step in controlling this disease, protecting the health of poultry and improving food security.”

The work was supported with grant funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation(UKRI). The study can be found here.

Mcdougal
Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist
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