, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 338–345 | Cite as

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

  • Gregory M. WoodsEmail author
  • Alexandre Kreiss
  • Katherine Belov
  • Hannah V. Siddle
  • David L. Obendorf
  • H. Konrad Muller
Special Focus: Tasmanian Devil Declines


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 Disease immune response vaccine lymphoid tissue major histocompatibility complex lymphocyte proliferation 



The authors gratefully acknowledge all members of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease Team. They also thank Dr. Barrie Wells and Dr. James Harris for veterinary assistance and Candice Clark for technical assistance. They also acknowledge the assistance provided by the Pathology Department, Royal Hobart Hospital. Financial support for this work came from the Department of Primary Industry and Water and research grants from the Eric Guiler Foundation, the Australian Research Council, and the Sarah and Anne Payten Canine Cancer Fund. Ethics was approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of Tasmanian’s Park and Wildlife Services, permit numbers 33/2004–5 and 32/2005–6


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Copyright information

© Ecohealth Journal Consortium 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory M. Woods
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexandre Kreiss
    • 1
  • Katherine Belov
    • 2
  • Hannah V. Siddle
    • 2
  • David L. Obendorf
    • 3
  • H. Konrad Muller
    • 1
  1. 1.Menzies Research InstituteUniversity of TasmaniaTasmaniaAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of SydneyNew South WalesAustralia
  3. 3.School of MedicineUniversity of TasmaniaTasmaniaAustralia

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