Low pathogenicity avian influenza causes mild disease involving the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems of wild and domestic birds. Avian influenza research often emphasizes the effect of the virus genetics on disease, but the influence of host genetics on resistance to infection is not well understood. The genetic determinants of enhanced resistance to influenza can be explored by using genetically distinct, highly inbred chicken lines that differ in susceptibility to influenza. In this study, we compared the mucosal cellular immune responses between the relatively resistant Fayoumi M43 chicken line and the relatively susceptible Leghorn GB2 chicken line after challenging with low pathogenicity avian influenza virus (LPAIV) H6N2.
The birds were inoculated at 21 days of age with 107 50 % egg infective dose (EID50) LPAIV H6N2 via nasal and tracheal routes in two separate experiments. Clinical signs were recorded, tracheal swabs were collected to measure viral titer, and tracheas and lungs were harvested for flow cytometric analysis of macrophage, B cell, and T cell populations at 4 days post-infection (dpi) (Experiments 1 and 2) and 6 dpi (Experiment 2). Blood and tears were also collected at 7 and 14 dpi (Experiment 1) to measure antibody levels.
Compared to both the non-challenged Fayoumis and the relatively susceptible Leghorn chickens, relatively resistant Fayoumi chickens challenged with LPAIV demonstrated enhanced MHC class I expression on antigen-presenting cells and increased macrophage, B cell, and T cell frequencies in the trachea, which were associated with reduced tracheal viral titers at 4 dpi. In contrast, MHC class I expression and immune cell frequencies in the trachea were not different between challenged Leghorns and non-challenged Leghorns. Furthermore, Leghorns shed higher virus titers in their trachea compared to Fayoumis. Challenged Fayoumis and Leghorns both produced AIV-specific IgY detected in the serum and tears, but AIV-specific IgA was not detected in the tears. In this study, we provide new insight into immune mechanisms of enhanced resistance to avian influenza in chickens, which may lead to improved vaccination strategies and breeding programs.