Genetic variation in chicken interferon signalling pathway genes in research lines showing differential viral resistance

23 Jun 2022
Mountford J, Gheyas A, Vervelde L and Smith J

Avian viruses of economic interest are a significant burden on the poultry industry, affecting production traits and resulting in mortality. Furthermore, the zoonosis of avian viruses risks pandemics developing in humans. Vaccination is the most common method of controlling viruses; however current vaccines often lack cross-protection against multiple strains of each virus. The mutagenicity of these viruses has also led to virulent strains emerging that can overcome the protection offered by vaccines. Breeding chickens with a more robust innate immune response may help in tackling current and emerging viruses. Understanding the genetic evolution of different lines will thus provide a useful tool in helping the host in the fight against pathogens. This study focuses on the interferon genes and their receptors in different chicken lines that are known to be more resistant or susceptible to particular avian viruses. Comparing genotypic differences in these core immune genes between the chicken lines may explain the phenotypic differences observed and aid the identification of causative variations. The relative resistance/susceptibility of each line to viruses of interest (Marek's disease virus, infectious bursal disease, infectious bronchitis virus and avian influenza virus) has previously been determined. Here we identify single nucleotide polymorphisms in interferons and downstream genes. Functional prediction tools were used to identify variants that may be affecting protein structure, mRNA secondary structure or transcription factor and micro-RNA binding sites. These variants were then considered in the context of the research lines and their distribution between phenotypes. We highlight 60 variants of interest in the interferon pathway genes that may account for susceptibility/resistance to viral pathogens.