High specificity in the C. elegans innate immune responses

In the past decade, the paradigm which claimed that invertebrate immune systems lack specificity has been reconsidered. Accumulating evidence supports that invertebrate immune systems are able to mount specific responses to the pathogen species-, and even to the pathogen strain-level. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms behind invertebrate immune specificity remain mostly unknown. We chose to study the mechanisms of specific immune responses of the worm to two different pathogenic strains of the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (MYBY18247 and MYBT18679), because there is phenotypic evidence of specific genotype-genotype interactions between this host-pathogen pair. We did an initial RNA-Seq experiment upon pathogen exposure and found that 9% of the differentially expressed genes change their expression in different ways when comparing the two pathogen strains. Through promoter region motif enrichment analysis, we found the GATA transcription factor ELT-2 is responsible for the pathogen strain-specific transcriptomic response. Upon elt-2 knockdown worms exposed to MYBT18679 display lower survival rate coupled with higher intestinal damage than non-infected controls. Additionally, by performing further genetic analysis using gene knockdown and knockout, we found that the p38 MAPK pathway acts likely in parallel to elt-2 and the transcription factor skn-1 cooperates with elt-2 to promote resistance to MYBT18679. On the other hand, elt-2 knockdown leads to a substantially higher survival rate, together with lower intestinal tissue damage compared to control worms, upon exposure to MYBT18247, another pathogenic Bacillus thuringiensis strain. The MYBT18247 pathogen load of elt-2(RNAi) worms compared to control worms remained unchanged, suggesting the elt-2 negatively regulates tolerance towards MYBT18247. We conclude that ELT-2 coordinates strain-specific immune responses in this invertebrate host and promotes resistance upon exposure to MYBT18679, while it negatively regulates tolerance to MYBT18247.


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