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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2012 May-Jun;85(3):255-64. doi: 10.1086/665276. Epub 2012 Apr 3.

Innate immunity in free-ranging African buffalo (Syncerus caffer): associations with parasite infection and white blood cell counts.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


Mammalian immunology has been studied in great detail in laboratory animals, but few of the tools and less of the insight derived from these studies have been placed in the context of natural, outbred wildlife populations subject to variable environments. We investigated patterns of innate immunity in free-ranging African buffalo in relation to host traits (age, reproductive status, body condition, white blood cell counts) and disease status (bovine tuberculosis [BTB], gastrointestinal nematodes, coccidia, ticks). We evaluated and used an in vitro assay measuring bactericidal competence of blood to assess a component of innate immunity in 200 female buffalo captured at Kruger National Park, South Africa, in June/July and October 2008. Animals with BTB had higher bactericidal competence of blood. Animals with higher neutrophil counts had higher bactericidal competence, whereas animals with lower lymphocyte counts had higher bactericidal competence. This pattern was driven by animals captured at the end of the dry season (October) and may be evidence of immune polarization, whereby individuals are unable to upregulate multiple components of immunity simultaneously. Bactericidal competence did not vary with host pregnancy status, body condition, age, lactation, tick infestation, nematode egg count, or coccidia oocyst count. Overall, we demonstrate that the bactericidal competence assay is practical and informative for field-based studies in wild bovids. Our results also show a correlation between bactericidal competence and bovine tuberculosis infection and reveal possible functional polarizations between different types of immune response in a free-ranging mammal.

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