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Journal Article

Experimental evolution of immunological specificity


Schulenburg,  Hinrich
Max Planck Fellow Group Antibiotic Resistance Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Ferro, K., Peuß, R., Yang, W., Rosenstiel, P., Schulenburg, H., & Kurtz, J. (2019). Experimental evolution of immunological specificity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(41), 20598-20604. doi:10.1073/pnas.1904828116.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-EB92-E
Innate immune memory (i.e., immune priming) is found in many invertebrates. In some cases, immune priming provides protection against infection only when the same bacteria are used for priming and challenge; that is, priming can be specific. However, we still know little about the conditions favoring the evolution of immunological specificity. We present evidence that immune priming and its specificity can rapidly evolve in an insect through experimental selection by repeated bacterial exposure. Our populations evolved treatment-specific differences in expression profiles of immune, metabolic, and transcription-regulatory genes, pointing to similar mechanisms acting in vertebrate trained immunity. Hence, immune memory combines deeply rooted resemblances across systems with enormous evolutionary plasticity.Memory and specificity are hallmarks of the adaptive immune system. Contrary to prior belief, innate immune systems can also provide forms of immune memory, such as immune priming in invertebrates and trained immunity in vertebrates. Immune priming can even be specific but differs remarkably in cellular and molecular functionality from the well-studied adaptive immune system of vertebrates. To date, it is unknown whether and how the level of specificity in immune priming can adapt during evolution in response to natural selection. We tested the evolution of priming specificity in an invertebrate model, the beetle Tribolium castaneum. Using controlled evolution experiments, we selected beetles for either specific or unspecific immune priming toward the bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens, Lactococcus lactis, and 4 strains of the entomopathogen Bacillus thuringiensis. After 14 generations of host selection, specificity of priming was not universally higher in the lines selected for specificity, but rather depended on the bacterium used for priming and challenge. The insect pathogen B. thuringiensis induced the strongest priming effect. Differences between the evolved populations were mirrored in the transcriptomic response, revealing involvement of immune, metabolic, and transcription-modifying genes. Finally, we demonstrate that the induction strength of a set of differentially expressed immune genes predicts the survival probability of the evolved lines upon infection. We conclude that high specificity of immune priming can evolve rapidly for certain bacteria, most likely due to changes in the regulation of immune genes.