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article imageBats mount partial response against white nose syndrome

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2015 in Science
White-nose syndrome is a devastating infection of bats in North America, striking bats while they are hibernating in caves. As a sign of better news, some bats appear to be developing an immune response.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The resultant infection attacks bats during their winter hibernation. The infection leaves them weakened and susceptible to starvation and secondary infections. This is called "white-nose" because it appears as a white, powdery substance on the muzzles, ears and wings of infected bats.
The number of bats infected in Canada and the U.S. has passed seven million, an indication of the spread of the disease. The rate of infection has been covered previously in Digital Journal articles.
In terms of more positive news, researchers have found that some bats are able to mount a challenge against the fungus by an immune response. The immune response however is different when the bats are hibernating in cold temperatures compared to when they are out of hibernation and flying around in warmer temperatures.
It seems that a bat’s initial responses to the fungal infection remain active during hibernation and these are the same as those active during infections when the bat is awake and subject to warm temperatures. Here the bat can challenge the infection.
However, in hibernation, the activity of white blood cells into infected tissue does not occur, leaving the bat vulnerable to the disease. The reason appears to be that genes involved with metabolism slow down and this has an effect on how the immune system operates.
In some bats there is a degree of immune resistance that a response is mounted during hibernation. The reasons for this are not clear; however, pinpointing this could help in the fight against the infection and with the protection of bat populations.
The new immune response findings are published in a paper reported to the journal PLOS Pathogens. The research is headed “The White-Nose Syndrome Transcriptome: Activation of Anti-fungal Host Responses in Wing Tissue of Hibernating Little Brown Myotis.”
More about White nose syndrome, Fungus, Bats, Immunity
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