Deakin University

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Complex associations between cancer progression and immune gene expression reveals early influence of transmissible cancer on Tasmanian devils

journal contribution
posted on 2024-04-12, 05:28 authored by Nynke RavenNynke Raven, Marcel KlaassenMarcel Klaassen, Thomas MadsenThomas Madsen, M Jones, DG Hamilton, M Ruiz-Aravena, F Thomas, RK Hamede, Beata UjvariBeata Ujvari
The world’s largest extant carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, is challenged by Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), a fatal, clonally transmitted cancer. In two decades, DFTD has spread across 95% of the species distributional range. A previous study has shown that factors such as season, geographic location, and infection with DFTD can impact the expression of immune genes in Tasmanian devils. To date, no study has investigated within-individual immune gene expression changes prior to and throughout the course of DFTD infection. To explore possible changes in immune response, we investigated four locations across Tasmania that differed in DFTD exposure history, ranging between 2 and >30 years. Our study demonstrated considerable complexity in the immune responses to DFTD. The same factors (sex, age, season, location and DFTD infection) affected immune gene expression both across and within devils, although seasonal and location specific variations were diminished in DFTD affected devils. We also found that expression of both adaptive and innate immune genes starts to alter early in DFTD infection and continues to change as DFTD progresses. A novel finding was that the lower expression of immune genes MHC-II, NKG2D and CD8 may predict susceptibility to earlier DFTD infection. A case study of a single devil with regressed tumor showed opposite/contrasting immune gene expression patterns compared to the general trends observed across devils with DFTD infection. Our study highlights the complexity of DFTD’s interactions with the host immune system and the need for long-term studies to fully understand how DFTD alters the evolutionary trajectory of devil immunity.



Frontiers in Immunology



Article number

ARTN 1286352




Lausanne, Switzerland







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal