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Genome-wide investigation reveals pathogen-specific and shared signatures in the response of Caenorhabditis elegans to infection

Daniel Wong123, Daphne Bazopoulou4, Nathalie Pujol123, Nektarios Tavernarakis4 and Jonathan J Ewbank123*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre d'Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy, Université de la Méditerranée, Case 906, 13288 Marseille Cedex 9, France

2 Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, U631, 13288 Marseille, France

3 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR6102, 13288 Marseille, France

4 Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Foundation for Research and Technology, Heraklion 71110, Crete, Greece

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R194  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r194

Published: 17 September 2007

Abstract

Background

There are striking similarities between the innate immune systems of invertebrates and vertebrates. Caenorhabditis elegans is increasingly used as a model for the study of innate immunity. Evidence is accumulating that C. elegans mounts distinct responses to different pathogens, but the true extent of this specificity is unclear. Here, we employ direct comparative genomic analyses to explore the nature of the host immune response.

Results

Using whole-genome microarrays representing 20,334 genes, we analyzed the transcriptional response of C. elegans to four bacterial pathogens. Different bacteria provoke pathogen-specific signatures within the host, involving differential regulation of 3.5-5% of all genes. These include genes that encode potential pathogen-recognition and antimicrobial proteins. Additionally, variance analysis revealed a robust signature shared by the pathogens, involving 22 genes associated with proteolysis, cell death and stress responses. The expression of these genes, including those that mediate necrosis, is similarly altered following infection with three bacterial pathogens. We show that necrosis aggravates pathogenesis and accelerates the death of the host.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that in C. elegans, different infections trigger both specific responses and responses shared by several pathogens, involving immune defense genes. The response shared by pathogens involves necrotic cell death, which has been associated with infection in humans. Our results are the first indication that necrosis is important for disease susceptibility in C. elegans. This opens the way for detailed study of the means by which certain bacteria exploit conserved elements of host cell-death machinery to increase their effective virulence.