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Title: Immunopathogenesis of chronic Mycobacterium marinum infection in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio)
Authors: Jaeckel, Gilta
Supervisor(s): Adams, Alexandra
Thompson, Kimberly
Bron, James
Keywords: Mycobacterium marinum, zebrafish, granuloma, immune response, microarray
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: Tuberculosis (TB) is still a global epidemic disease despite its discovery over 100 years ago. It is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which invades and replicates within macrophages, key cells of the innate immune system. The hallmark of tuberculosis is the granuloma which is an accumulation of Mycobacterium-infected cells surrounded by immune cells, and the containment of the bacteria is assured as long as the host immune response remains intact. Despite a well-developed immune response in the infected host, reactivation of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) may occur through the introduction of other bacterial pathogens, re-infection with M. tuberculosis or due to other immunosuppression, e.g. AIDS or cancer. The zebrafish–M. marinum model provides an ideal system for examining the pathogenesis of tuberculosis and the associated immune response of the host due to its vertebrate-like immune system, and the close phylogenetic relationship of M. marinum to M. tuberculosis. Granuloma formation and immune response to M. marinum have been investigated mainly in zebrafish embryos or larvae, which lack an adaptive immune response, and little work has been performed in adult fish. This complicates the transfer of findings in these models to chronic, latent or re-activated disease stages in humans, where adaptive immunity plays an important part. The aim of the research presented here was to investigate the immune response of the adult zebrafish to M. marinum infection, with the focus on the kidney as one of the major immune organs in fish. The results obtained support further use of the adult zebrafish-M. marinum model for human tuberculosis infections in the future. In the present study, adult zebrafish were infected with low doses of M. marinum (NCIMB 1297 or NCIMB 1298) and the kidney was investigated for histopathological changes in the form of granulomas over a period of two months(Chapter 3). No granulomas were detected in the fish infected with M. marinum NCIMB 1298 while in zebrafish infected with NCIMB 1297, macrophage aggregation and granuloma formation were detected as early as day 11 post-infection. Occurrence and severity of granulomas and the presence of replicating bacteria increased over time, resulting in a high density of non-caseating and caseating granulomas in the head and posterior kidney after two months of infection. Interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β), Interleukin-12 (IL-12), Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and Interferon gamma (IFNγ) have been shown to be important cytokines functioning in defence against tuberculosis, especially IFNγ which is considered to play an important part in acute, chronic and latent tuberculosis. Changes in gene expression of these immune genes in adult zebrafish were investigated over the first two weeks of infection with M. marinum NCIMB 1298 and NCIMB 1297. The results obtained in the first week after infection were inconclusive for both strains investigated. In agreement with the results presented in Chapter 3, no specific immune response was detectable in fish infected with M. marinum NCIMB 1298. However, after 14 days, a high-fold change in IL-12 and TNFα expression were detected in fish infected with M. marinum NCIMB 1297, while IL-1β showed no changes compared to the control fish. Furthermore, no IFNγ expression was detectable over the first two weeks of infection. The delay in the expression of IL-12 and the lack of IFNγ expression can be explained by the ability of M. marinum to manipulate the host immune response, as described for M. tuberculosis and other intracellular bacteria. Besides in vivo investigations of the host-pathogen interactions, in vitro primary macrophage cultures from individual zebrafish kidneys were developed to investigate macrophage-specific gene expression to M. marinum infection (Chapter 4). Although the results looked promising, further optimization is required before the results of the in vitro assays can be fully compared to the in vivo results. Our understanding of reactivation in latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) both in healthy and immune compromised individuals is insufficient and is delaying the development of treatments for the disease. Therefore, the transcriptome profile of long-term infections (26 weeks) with M. marinum NCIMB 1297 in adult zebrafish was investigated to determine whether the gene expression in this model is comparable to LTBI in humans or other vertebrate model organisms (Chapter 5). In addition, transcriptome profiling was investigated in a group of long-term infected zebrafish exposed to stress to induce re-activation of the disease. Expression profiles in the long-term infected fish and the infected plus stressed fish differed from each other and displayed similar gene profiles to those found in the latent or re-activated disease states, respectively, in human and other vertebrate models. Infected fish displayed a profile highlighted by IFNγ, TNFα, NOS2b and IL-8 expression alongside activating and regulatory T cell responses, including involvement of cytotoxic T cells (CTLs). The transcriptome profile of the group of fish that had been infected and then stressed was distinguished by the lack of IFNγ expression and reduction in TNFα and NOS2b expression, as well as a lack of T cell response compared to the infected fish. In conclusion, the results obtained from Chapters 3 and 4 showed that M. marinum NCIMB 1298 is non-pathogenic to zebrafish. Infection with M. marinum NCIMB 1297, on the other hand, resulted in a similar immune response to that described for human and other mammalian vertebrate models (Chapters 3-5). These results support the use of the adult zebrafish-M. marinum model to investigate LTBI and disease reactivation, and will aid our understanding host-pathogen interactions for tuberculosis in the future.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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