Cytokines play a key role in maintaining communication between organs and in so doing modulate the interaction between concurrent infections. The extent of these effects depends on the properties of the organ infected and the intensity and type of infections. To determine systemic bystander effects among organs, IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-10 gene expression was quantified at 7 days post-challenge in directly infected and uninfected organs during single and co-infections with the respiratory bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and the gastrointestinal helminths Graphidium strigosum and Trichostrongylus retortaeformis. Results showed that cytokine expression in a specific organ was influenced by the type of infection occurring in another organ, and this bystander effect was more apparent in some organs than others. Within the same organ the relative cytokine expression was consistent across infections, although some cytokines were more affected by bystander effects than others. For the infected gastrointestinal tract, a stronger cytokine response was observed in the tissue that harbored the majority of helminths (i.e. duodenum and fundus). Overall, co-infections altered the intensity but to a lesser extent the relative cytokine profile against the focal infection, indicating clear bystander effects and low organ compartmentalization. However, organs appear to actively modulate cytokine expression to avoid potential immuno-pathological consequences.
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