Immunogenetic response to a malaria-like parasite in a wild primate
Malaria is infamous for the massive toll it exacts on human life and health. In the face of this intense selection, many human populations have evolved mechanisms that confer some resistance to the disease, such as sickle-cell hemoglobin or the Duffy null blood group. Less understood are adaptations in other vertebrate hosts, many of which have a longer history of co-evolution with malaria parasites. By comparing malaria resistance adaptations across host species, we can gain fundamental
... into host-parasite co-evolution. In particular, understanding the mechanisms by which non-human primate immune systems combat malaria may be fruitful in uncovering transferable therapeutic targets for humans. However, most research on primate response to malaria has focused on a single or few loci, typically in experimentally-infected captive primates. Here, we report the first transcriptomic study of a wild primate response to a malaria-like parasite, investigating gene expression response of red colobus monkeys (Piliocolobus tephrosceles) to natural infection with the malaria-like parasite, Hepatocystis. We identified colobus genes with expression strongly correlated with parasitemia, including many implicated in human malaria and suggestive of common genetic architecture of disease response. For instance, the expression of ACKR1 (alias DARC) gene, previously linked to resistance in humans, was found to be positively correlated with parasitemia. Other similarities to human parasite response include induction of changes in immune cell type composition and, potentially, increased extramedullary hematopoiesis and altered biosynthesis of neutral lipids. Our results illustrate the utility of comparative immunogenetic investigation of malaria response in primates. Such inter-specific comparisons of transcriptional response to pathogens afford a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the adaptive genetic architecture of disease resistance, which may lead to the identification of novel intervention targets to improve human health.