, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 103-113
Date: 06 Oct 2010

MHC class II DRB diversity in raccoons (Procyon lotor) reveals associations with raccoon rabies virus (Lyssavirus)

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In North America, the raccoon rabies virus (RRV) is an endemic wildlife disease which causes acute encephalopathies and is a strong selective force on raccoons (Procyon lotor), with estimates of ∼85% of the population succumbing to the disease when epizootic. RRV is regarded as a lethal disease if untreated; therefore, no evolutionary response would be expected of raccoon populations. However, variable immune responses to RRV have been observed in raccoons indicating a potential for evolutionary adaptation. Studies of variation within the immunologically important major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have revealed relationships between MHC alleles and diseases in humans and other wildlife species. This enhances our understanding of how hosts and pathogens adapt and co-evolve. In this study, we used RRV as a model system to study host–pathogen interaction in raccoons from a challenge study and from four wild populations that differ in exposure times and viral lineages. We investigated the potential role of Prlo-DRB polymorphism in relation to susceptibility/resistance to RRV in 113 RRV positive and 143 RRV negative raccoons. Six alleles were found to be associated with RRV negative status and five alleles with RRV positive animals. We found variable patterns of MHC associations given the relative number of selective RRV sweeps in the studied regions and correlations between MHC diversity and RRV lineages. The allelic associations established provide insight into how the genetic variation of raccoons may affect the disease outcome and this can be used to examine similar associations between other rabies variants and their hosts.