, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 338–345

The Immune Response of the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and Devil Facial Tumour Disease


    • Menzies Research InstituteUniversity of Tasmania
  • Alexandre Kreiss
    • Menzies Research InstituteUniversity of Tasmania
  • Katherine Belov
    • Faculty of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of Sydney
  • Hannah V. Siddle
    • Faculty of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of Sydney
  • David L. Obendorf
    • School of MedicineUniversity of Tasmania
  • H. Konrad Muller
    • Menzies Research InstituteUniversity of Tasmania
Special Focus: Tasmanian Devil Declines

DOI: 10.1007/s10393-007-0117-1

Cite this article as:
Woods, G.M., Kreiss, A., Belov, K. et al. EcoHealth (2007) 4: 338. doi:10.1007/s10393-007-0117-1


One of the most remarkable aspects of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is its infectious nature, and for successful transmission it must avoid detection by the devil’s immune system. For this to occur, the devil either is severely immunosuppressed or factors produced by the tumor contribute to its avoidance of immune detection. An analysis of the devil’s immune system revealed the presence of normal-looking lymphoid organs and lymphoid cells. At a functional level the lymphocytes proliferated in response to mitogen stimulation. Subcutaneous injection of a cellular antigen produced a strong antibody response, providing compelling evidence that the devil has a competent immune system. Tumor cell analysis demonstrated that the tumor expresses the genes of the major histocompatibility complex; however, there was a limited diversity. Therefore, the most likely explanation for devil-to-devil transmission of DFTD is that the tumor is not recognized by the devil as “non-self” because of the limited genetic diversity. With its consistent morphology and relatively stable genome, this tumor would provide a reasonable target for a vaccine approach, provided the immune system can be coaxed into recognizing the tumor as “non-self.”


Devil Facial Tumour Diseaseimmune responsevaccinelymphoid tissuemajor histocompatibility complexlymphocyte proliferation

Copyright information

© Ecohealth Journal Consortium 2007