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Longitudinal evaluation of leukocyte transcripts in killer whales (Orcinus Orca)

April 27, 2016

Early identification of illness and/or presence of environmental and/or social stressors in free-ranging and domestic cetaceans is a priority for marine mammal health care professionals. Incorporation of leukocyte gene transcript analysis into the diagnostic tool kit has the potential to augment classical diagnostics based upon ease of sample storage and shipment, inducible nature and well-defined roles of transcription and associated downstream actions. Development of biomarkers that could serve to identify “insults” and potentially differentiate disease etiology would be of great diagnostic value. To this end, a modest number of peripheral blood leukocyte gene transcripts were selected for application to a domestic killer whale population with a focus on broad representation of inducible immunologically relevant genes. Normalized leukocyte transcript values, longitudinally acquired from 232 blood samples derived from 26 clinically healthy whales, were not visibly influenced temporally nor by sex or the specific Park in which they resided. Stability in leukocyte transcript number during periods of health enhances their potential use in diagnostics through identification of outliers. Transcript levels of two cytokine genes, IL-4 and IL-17, were highly variable within the group as compared to the other transcripts. IL-4 transcripts were typically absent. Analysis of transcript levels on the other genes of interest, on an individual animal basis, identified more outliers than were visible when analyzed in the context of the entire population. The majority of outliers (9 samples) were low, though elevated transcripts were identified for IL-17 from 2 animals and one each for Cox-2 and IL-10. The low number of outliers was not unexpected as sample selection was intentionally directed towards animals that were clinically healthy at the time of collection. Outliers may reflect animals experiencing subclinical disease that is transient and self-limiting. The immunologic knowledge derived from longitudinal immunologic studies in killer whales, as was the target of the present study, has the potential to improve diagnostics and health related decision making for this and other domestic and free-ranging cetacean species.

Publication Year 2016
Title Longitudinal evaluation of leukocyte transcripts in killer whales (Orcinus Orca)
DOI 10.1016/j.vetimm.2016.04.011
Authors Tatjana Sitt, Lizabeth Bowen, Chia-Shan Lee, Myra Blanchard, James McBain, Christopher Dold, Jeffrey L. Stott
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology
Index ID 70171475
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center