Understanding stress-induced immunosuppression: Exploration of cytokine and chemokine gene profiles in chicken peripheral leukocytes

S. Shini, G.R. Huff, A. Shini, P. Kaiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At present, the poultry meat and egg industry has gained a lot of ground, being viewed as a provider of a healthy alternative to red meat and other protein sources. If this trend is to be maintained, solutions must be found to improve resistance of chickens to disease, which often is weakened by stressful conditions. In poultry, stress-induced immunosuppression is manifested by failures in vaccination and increased morbidity and mortality of flocks. Currently, several modern cellular and molecular approaches are being used to explore the status of the immune system during stress and disease. It is likely that these new techniques will lead to the development of new strategies for preventing and controlling immunosuppression in poultry. Using quantitative reverse transcription-PCR assays, a broad spectrum of cytokine, chemokine, and their receptor genes can be quantified in birds and then be used as markers to assess the effects of stress on the immune system. Currently, we are investigating immune and endocrine interactions in the chicken, in particular the cells and molecules that are known to be involved in such interactions in mammals. We have evaluated the effects of corticosterone administration in drinking water on peripheral lymphocyte and heterophil cytokine and chemokine gene profiles. In particular, there seems to be effects on cytokine and chemokine mRNA expression levels in both lymphocytes and heterophils, especially expression of the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-1 beta, IL-6, and IL-18 and chemokines C-C motif, ligand 1 inflammatory (CCLi1); C-C motif, ligand 2 inflammatory (CCLi2); C-C motif, ligand 5 (CCL5); C-C motif, ligand 16 (CCL16); C-X-C motif ligand 1 inflammatory (CXCLi1); and C-X-C motif ligand 2 inflammatory (CXCLi2), which are initially upregulated and are potentially involved in modulating the adaptive immune response. A chronic treatment with corticosterone downregulates proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines, suggesting that the delayed effects of chronic stress can suppress the immune response. Messenger RNA expression levels of transforming growth factor-beta 4 (TGF-beta 4) are also upregulated in cortisosterone-treated birds. It appears that the balance between T-helper (Th) 1 and Th2/T regulatory cytokine production is altered in conditions associated with significant changes in plasma corticosterone concentration. Experiments are underway to decipher the cytokine and chemokine responses to vaccination and bacterial challenge on the background of stress-induced immunosuppression.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)841-851
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Poultry Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • Chemokines/genetics
  • Chickens/genetics
  • Chickens/physiology
  • Coronavirus Infections
  • Corticosterone/therapeutic use
  • Cytokines/genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Immunosuppression
  • Infectious bronchitis virus/immunology
  • Leukocytes/physiology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Vaccines/administration & dosage
  • Viral Vaccines/administration & dosage

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