Inefficient immune response is associated with microbial permissiveness in juvenile oysters affected by mass mortalities on field

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Abstract

Since 2008, juvenile Crassostrea gigas oysters have suffered from massive mortalities in European farming areas. This disease of complex etiology is still incompletely understood. Triggered by an elevated seawater temperature, it has been associated to infections by a herpes virus named OsHV-1 as well as pathogenic vibrios of the Splendidus clade. Ruling out the complexity of the disease, most of our current knowledge has been acquired in controlled experiments. Among the many unsolved questions, it is still ignored what role immunity plays in the capacity oysters have to survive an infectious episode. Here we show that juvenile oysters susceptible to the disease mount an inefficient immune response associated with microbial permissiveness and death. We found that, in contrast to resistant adult oysters having survived an earlier episode of mortality, susceptible juvenile oysters never exposed to infectious episodes died by more than 90% in a field experiment. Susceptible oysters were heavily colonized by OsHV-1 herpes virus as well as bacteria including vibrios potentially pathogenic for oysters, which proliferated in oyster flesh and body fluids during the mortality event. Nonetheless, susceptible oysters were found to sense microbes as indicated by an overexpression of immune receptors and immune signaling pathways. However, they did not express important immune effectors involved in antimicrobial immunity and apoptosis and showed repressed expression of genes involved in ROS and metal homeostasis. This contrasted with resistant oysters, which expressed those important effectors, controlled bacterial and viral colonization and showed 100% survival to the mortality event. Altogether, our results demonstrate that the immune response mounted by susceptible oysters lacks some important immune functions and fails in controlling microbial proliferation. This study opens the way to more holistic studies on the “mass mortality syndrome”, which are now required to decipher the sequence of events leading to oyster mortalities and determine the relative weight of pathogens, oyster genetics and oyster-associated microbiota in the disease.

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