Hemorrhagic disease (HD) caused by a group of elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV) is one of the leading causes of death for young elephants in human care. These viruses are widespread and typically persist latently in adult elephants with no negative effects; however, in juvenile Asian and more recently young African elephants, the onset of disease can be rapid and the mortality rate high. Measuring biomarkers associated with the immune response could be beneficial to understanding underlying disease processes, as well as the management of infection and HD. The goal of this study was to measure acute phase proteins and cytokines in serum collected from elephants infected with EEHV (13 Asian and 1 African) and compare concentrations according to presence, severity and outcome of disease. Serum amyloid A (SAA) and haptoglobin (HP) were higher in elephants with EEHV viremia than those without; concentrations increased with increasing viral load, and were higher in fatal cases compared to those that survived. In Asian elephants, SAA was also higher during EEHV1 viremia compared to EEHV5. Cytokine concentrations were typically low, and no statistical differences existed between groups. However, in individuals with detectable levels, longitudinal profiles indicated changes in tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) that may reflect an immune response to EEHV infection. However, the overall low concentrations detected using previously validated assays do not support the presence of a 'cytokine storm' and suggest more work is needed to understand if sub-optimal immune responses could be involved in disease progression. These results highlight the potential benefit of measuring circulating biomarker concentrations, such as APPs and cytokines, to improve our understanding of EEHV viremia and HD, assist with monitoring the progression of disease and determining the impact of interventions.


Animal Science

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PloS one