Complex immune responses and molecular reactions to pathogens and disease in a desert reptile (Gopherus agassizii)

K. Kristina Drake, Christina M. Aiello, Lizabeth Bowen, Rebecca L. Lewison, Todd C. Esque, Kenneth E. Nussear, Shannon C. Waters, Peter J. Hudson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Immune function plays an important role in an animal's defense against infectious disease. In reptiles, immune responses may be complex and counterintuitive, and diagnostic tools used to identify infection, such as induced antibody responses are limited. Recent studies using gene transcription profiling in tortoises have proven useful in identifying immune responses to various intrinsic and extrinsic stressors. As part of a larger experiment with Mojave desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), we facilitated the transmission of the pathogenic bacteria, Mycoplasma agassizii (Myag), to naïve adults and measured innate and induced immune reactions over time. Specifically, we evaluated clinical condition, presence of Myag in the nasal/oral cavity, induced antibody responses specific to Myag, and measured molecular reactions (gene transcript profiles) in 15 captive tortoises classified as naïve, exposed, or infected and 14 wild tortoises for comparison. Myag was confirmed inside the nasal/oral cavity in exposed tortoises within 30–60 days of introduction to infected animals, yet we did not detect Myag specific induced antibody responses in these individuals until 420–595 days post exposure. Surprisingly, we found no overall differences in the gene transcript profiles between our experimental treatment groups throughout this study. This work highlights the complexities in assessing immune function and diagnosing pathogen related infections in tortoises and other reptiles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2516-2534
Number of pages19
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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