Infection with koala retrovirus subgroup B (KoRV-B), but not KoRV-A, is associated with chlamydial disease in free-ranging koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus)

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Waugh, Courtney A. ; Hanger, Jonathan ; Loader, Joanne ; King, Andrew ; Hobbs, Matthew ; Johnson, Rebecca ; Timms, Peter (2017)

The virulence of chlamydial infection in wild koalas is highly variable between individuals. Some koalas can be infected (PCR positive) with Chlamydia for long periods but remain asymptomatic, whereas others develop clinical disease. Chlamydia in the koala has traditionally been studied without regard to coinfection with other pathogens, although koalas are usually subject to infection with koala retrovirus (KoRV). Retroviruses can be immunosuppressive, and there is evidence of an immunosuppressive effect of KoRV in vitro. Originally thought to be a single endogenous strain, a new, potentially more virulent exogenous variant (KoRV-B) was recently reported. We hypothesized that KoRV-B might significantly alter chlamydial disease outcomes in koalas, presumably via immunosuppression. By studying sub-groups of Chlamydia and KoRV infected koalas in the wild, we found that neither total KoRV load (either viraemia or proviral copies per genome), nor chlamydial infection level or strain type, was significantly associated with chlamydial disease risk. However, PCR positivity with KoRV-B was significantly associated with chlamydial disease in koalas (p = 0.02961). This represents an example of a recently evolved virus variant that may be predisposing its host (the koala) to overt clinical disease when co-infected with an otherwise asymptomatic bacterial pathogen (Chlamydia). © The Author(s) 2017. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
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