Avian Immunity and Disease Management: A Search for the Altricial Paradigm

EPA Grant Number: F07F20179
Title: Avian Immunity and Disease Management: A Search for the Altricial Paradigm
Investigators: Olson, Marisa L.
Institution: Washington State University
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: September 1, 2007 through September 1, 2010
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Health Effects , Academic Fellowships


The emergence and management of zoonotic disease is an issue of great public concern. Not only because of the potential threat that these pathogens may impose on human health, but also because of the threat to domesticated animals, livestock and wildlife. The purpose of this study is to further our understanding of the immune systems of avian vector-species that contribute to the spread of infectious disease. In particular, this project will examine the constraints that seasonality and maternal effects impose on immunologic development. Collectively, these measurements may act as predictors for when individuals within a population of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) are at greatest risk of contracting and thus spreading pathogenic disease both within and between species.


To address the aforementioned questions a detailed profile will be generated depicting the adaptive immune system during the early stages of nestling development. Specifically, adult females will be challenged with a novel antigen and measures of both the transfer rate and the catabolisation rate of maternal antibodies built against the said antigen will be analyzed in the yolk and plasma of subsequent offspring across multiple generations. Maternal gonadal steroid and glucocorticoid levels will also be monitored throughout the breeding season to ascertain if seasonal variation in nestling immune function is a reflection of hormone-mediated maternal effects.

This study will also examine the impact that hormone- and immune-mediated maternal effects have on nestling immunocompetence by challenging adult females with an immunogenic compound and measuring the antibody and glucocorticoid responses in offspring that are challenged with the same antigen. Finally, the effects that early exposure to immunogenic compounds have on the development of the primary lymphoid organs will be assessed via histology and immunohistochemistry of the bursae of Fabricius and thymuses obtained from challenged individuals.

Expected Results:

The results of this study will contribute to our overall understanding of avian immunology. A majority of the literature on avian immunology uses the domestic fowl as a model of immune function and development. However, our understanding of avian immunology and thus disease management in wild aves may be enhanced by identifying a model for species that utilize an altricial versus precocial mode of development. House Sparrows may prove to be an ideal model of immunologic function and development in altricially developing species. As such, by investigating the mechanisms underlying immune function in wild passerines more effective methods of disease management for avian vector-species can be obtained.

Supplemental Keywords:

Disease management, immunocompetence, House Sparrow, maternal effects, ecological physiology, humoral immunity, innate immunity, emerging infectious disease, wildlife pathogens, vector species,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • Final