Effect of dexamethasone treatment on the immune response of Gulf Coast Native lambs to Haemonchus contortus infection

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Neonatal and weaner Gulf Coast Native (Native) lambs were studied to determine whether an immunological basis underlies their natural resistance to Haemonchus contortus infection. Neonatal Native lambs (n=8) and weaner Native lambs (n=15) were randomly assigned to a treatment or a control group. Lambs in the treatment group received dexamethasone by intramuscular injection three times a week for 10 weeks (neonatal) and 15 weeks (weaners). All lambs were monitored for fecal egg count (FEC), blood packed cell volume (PCV), and white blood cell differential counts on a weekly basis for the duration of the studies. Neonatal lambs were kept on pasture with their dams and weaner lambs were dewormed at weaning and kept in pens where they received trickle infections. Serum antibody titers to H. contortus whole worm antigen (WWA) were determined using ELISA. Lymphocyte proliferation assays on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were done to assess lymphocyte function. All lambs were vaccinated with killed Brucella abortus strain 19 to assess the effect of dexamethasone treatment on antibody response. All lambs were necropsied at the end of each study to recover the contents of the gastrointestinal tract for nematode enumeration and identification. The results showed that mean FEC and mean PCV of the treatment group was significantly higher and lower, respectively, than in the control group in both neonatal and weaner lambs from weeks 6 and 5, respectively. At necropsy, total nematode count was significantly higher in treatment groups than in the control groups. Serum antibody titers to H. contortus WWA were significantly lower in treated groups than in control groups. Treatment groups showed a consistent depression in lymphocyte percentage being significantly lower from week 6 in both neonatal and weaner lambs. No differences were found in the response of PBMC to mitogen stimulation between the groups. Lambs in the control groups showed strong positive brucellosis card tests and the treatment groups did not. Dexamethasone treatment resulted in depression of the immune response and loss of natural resistance of Native lambs to H. contortus infection. The results of these studies suggest that some aspects of the immune response may underlie the natural resistance of Native sheep to H. contortus infection. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Veterinary Parasitology

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