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The role of corticosterone in stress-induced suppression of innate immunity in the male house sparrow

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In wild birds, the stress response can inhibit the activity of the innate immune system, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens. By elucidating the mechanisms which

In wild birds, the stress response can inhibit the activity of the innate immune system, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens. By elucidating the mechanisms which regulate the interaction between stress and innate immunity, researchers may be able to predict when birds experience increased susceptibility to infections and can target specific mediators to mitigate stress-induced suppression of innate immune activity. Such elucidation is especially important for urban birds, such as the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), because these birds experience higher pathogen prevalence and transmission when compared to birds in rural regions. I investigated the role of corticosterone (CORT) in stress-induced suppression of two measures of innate immune activity (complement- and natural antibody-mediated activity) in male House Sparrows. Corticosterone, the primary avian glucocorticoid, is elevated during the stress response and high levels of this hormone induce effects through the activation of cytosolic and membrane-bound glucocorticoid receptors (GR). My results demonstrate that CORT is necessary and sufficient for stress-induced suppression of complement-mediated activity, and that this relationship is consistent between years. Corticosterone, however, does not inhibit complement-mediated activity through cytosolic GR, and additional research is needed to confirm the involvement of membrane-bound GR. The role of CORT in stress-induced inhibition of natural antibody-mediated activity, however, remains puzzling. Stress-induced elevation of CORT can suppress natural antibody-mediated activity through the activation of cytosolic GR, but the necessity of this mechanism varies inter-annually. In other words, both CORT-dependent and CORT-independent mechanisms may inhibit natural antibody-mediated activity during stress in certain years, but the causes of this inter-annual variation are not known. Previous studies have indicated that changes in the pathogen environment or food availability can alter regulation of innate immunity, but further research is needed to test these hypotheses. Overall, my dissertation demonstrates that stress inhibits innate immunity through several mechanisms, but environmental pressures may influence this inhibitory relationship.

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Date Created
  • 2017

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Searching for an HIV vaccine: a heterologous prime-boost system using replicating vaccinia virus and plant-produced virus-like particles

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The HIV-1 pandemic continues to cause millions of new infections and AIDS-related deaths each year, and a majority of these occur in regions of the world with limited access to

The HIV-1 pandemic continues to cause millions of new infections and AIDS-related deaths each year, and a majority of these occur in regions of the world with limited access to antiretroviral therapy. Therefore, an HIV-1 vaccine is still desperately needed. The most successful HIV-1 clinical trial to date used a non-replicating canarypox viral vector and protein boosting, yet its modest efficacy left room for improvement. Efforts to derive novel vectors which can be both safe and immunogenic, have spawned a new era of live, viral vectors. One such vaccinia virus vector, NYVAC-KC, was specifically designed to replicate in humans and had several immune modulators deleted to improve immunogenicity and reduce pathogenicity. Two NYVAC-KC vectors were generated: one expressing the Gag capsid, and one with deconstructed-gp41 (dgp41), which contains an important neutralizing antibody target, the membrane proximal external region (MPER). These vectors were combined with HIV-1 Gag/dgp41 virus-like particles (VLPs) produced in the tobacco-relative Nicotiana benthamiana. Different plant expression vectors were compared in an effort to improve yield. A Geminivirus-based vector was shown to increase the amount of MPER present in VLPs, thus potentially enhancing immunogenicity. Furthermore, these VLPs were shown to interact with the innate immune system through Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling, which activated antigen presenting cells to induce a Th2-biased response in a TLR-dependent manner. Furthermore, expression of Gag and dgp41 in NYVAC-KC vectors resulted in activation of antiviral signaling pathways reliant on TBK1/IRF3, which necessitated the use of higher doses in mice to match the immunogenicity of wild-type viral vectors. VLPs and NYVAC-KC vectors were tested in mice, ultimately showing that the best antibody and Gag-specific T cell responses were generated when both components were administered simultaneously. Thus, plant-produced VLPs and poxvirus vectors represent a highly immunogenic HIV-1 vaccine candidate that warrants further study.

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Date Created
  • 2016