Transcriptome profile of spleen tissues from locally-adapted Kenyan pigs (Sus scrofa) experimentally infected with three varying doses of a highly virulent African swine fever virus genotype IX isolate: Ken12/busia.1 (ken-1033)

Background African swine fever (ASF) is a lethal hemorrhagic disease affecting domestic pigs resulting in up to 100% mortality rates caused by the ASF virus (ASFV). The locally-adapted pigs in South-western Kenya have been reported to be resilient to disease and harsh climatic conditions and tolerate ASF; however, the mechanisms by which this tolerance is sustained remain largely unknown. We evaluated the gene expression patterns in spleen tissues of these locally-adapted pigs in response to varying infective doses of ASFV to elucidate the virus-host interaction dynamics. Methods Locally adapted pigs (n = 14) were experimentally infected with a high dose (1x106HAD50), medium dose (1x104HAD50), and low dose (1x102HAD50) of the highly virulent genotype IX ASFV Ken12/busia.1 (Ken-1033) isolate diluted in PBS and followed through the course of infection for 29 days. The in vivo pig host and ASFV pathogen gene expression in spleen tissues from 10 pigs (including three from each infective group and one uninfected control) were analyzed in a dual-RNASeq fashion. We compared gene expression between three varying doses in the host and pathogen by contrasting experiment groups against the naïve control. Results A total of 4954 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were detected after ASFV Ken12/1 infection, including 3055, 1771, and 128 DEGs in the high, medium, and low doses, respectively. Gene ontology and KEGG pathway analysis showed that the DEGs were enriched for genes involved in the innate immune response, inflammatory response, autophagy, and apoptosis in lethal dose groups. The surviving low dose group suppressed genes in pathways of physiopathological importance. We found a strong association between severe ASF pathogenesis in the high and medium dose groups with upregulation of proinflammatory cytokines and immunomodulation of cytokine expression possibly induced by overproduction of prostaglandin E synthase (4-fold; p < 0.05) or through downregulation of expression of M1-activating receptors, signal transductors, and transcription factors. The host-pathogen interaction resulted in induction of expression of immune-suppressive cytokines (IL-27), inactivation of autophagy and apoptosis through up-regulation of NUPR1 [5.7-fold (high dose) and 5.1-fold (medium dose) [p < 0.05] and IL7R expression. We detected repression of genes involved in MHC class II antigen processing and presentation, such as cathepsins, SLA-DQB1, SLA-DOB, SLA-DMB, SLA-DRA, and SLA-DQA in the medium and high dose groups. Additionally, the host-pathogen interaction activated the CD8+ cytotoxicity and neutrophil machinery by increasing the expression of neutrophils/CD8+ T effector cell-recruiting chemokines (CCL2, CXCL2, CXCL10, CCL23, CCL4, CXCL8, and CXCL13) in the lethal high and medium dose groups. The recovered pigs infected with ASFV at a low dose significantly repressed the expression of CXCL10, averting induction of T lymphocyte apoptosis and FUNDC1 that suppressed neutrophilia. Conclusions We provide the first in vivo gene expression profile data from locally-adapted pigs from south-western Kenya following experimental infection with a highly virulent ASFV genotype IX isolate at varying doses that mimic acute and mild disease. Our study showed that the locally-adapted pigs induced the expression of genes associated with tolerance to infection and repression of genes involved in inflammation at varying levels depending upon the ASFV dose administered.