Profiling of infection specific mRNA transcripts of the European seabass Dicentrarchus labrax
© Sarropoulou et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2009
Received: 11 October 2008
Accepted: 10 April 2009
Published: 10 April 2009
The European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), one of the most extensively cultured species in European aquaculture productions, is, along with the gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata), a prospective model species for the Perciformes which includes several other commercially important species. Massive mortalities may be caused by bacterial or viral infections in intensive aquaculture production. Revealing transcripts involved in immune response and studying their relative expression enhances the understanding of the immune response mechanism and consequently also the creation of vaccines. The analysis of expressed sequence tags (EST) is an efficient and easy approach for gene discovery, comparative genomics and for examining gene expression in specific tissues in a qualitative and quantitative way.
Here we describe the construction, analysis and comparison of a total of ten cDNA libraries, six from different tissues infected with V. anguillarum (liver, spleen, head kidney, gill, peritoneal exudates and intestine) and four cDNA libraries from different tissues infected with Nodavirus (liver, spleen, head kidney and brain). In total 9605 sequences representing 3075 (32%) unique sequences (set of sequences obtained after clustering) were obtained and analysed. Among the sequences several immune-related proteins were identified for the first time in the order of Perciformes as well as in Teleostei.
The present study provides new information to the Gene Index of seabass. It gives a unigene set that will make a significant contribution to functional genomic studies and to studies of differential gene expression in relation to the immune system. In addition some of the potentially interesting genes identified by in silico analysis and confirmed by real-time PCR are putative biomarkers for bacterial and viral infections in fish.
The European seabass Dicentrarchus labrax is one of the most extensively aquacultured fish species in the Mediterranean, resulting in steadily increasing pressure on producers. Consequently, it is important to acquire new techniques and knowledge in order to improve aquaculture practices. Detailed information concerning growth, health, disease resistance and flesh quality benefit from the molecular as well as from the physiological point of view can provide illuminating new findings leading to improved aquaculture techniques. Several efforts have been made up till now to enrich the genomic resources in aquaculture production in the Mediterranean (chiefly for the gilthead sea bream Sparus aurata and for the European seabass Dicentrarchus labrax), e.g. Marine Genomics Europe (Network of Excellence) (CT-2003-505403), [1–5] as well as in the Atlantic (e.g. Atlantic halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus, Salmon Salmo salar) e.g. [6–13]. These studies focused mainly on non-challenged tissues in order to obtain a first unigene catalogue. Aquaculture production however is affected by viral and pathogenic bacteria, particularly in respect of D. labrax which has been shown to be the species most sensitive to pathogenic bacteria such as Vibrio anguillarum  and to viral infections such as Nodavirus [15, 16]. There are several commercial vaccines which provide protection against infection from V. anguillarum although the mechanism of immune response still remains unknown. Nodavirus can cause massive mortalities  and cannot be controlled so far because the production of commercial vaccines here is still in its infancy. In the present study we have generated a collection of EST sequences from tissues of European seabass infected with V. anguillarum and Nodavirus. Within this collection we were able to isolate immune relevant genes, and have gone on to compare gene expression in different tissues after viral and pathogenic bacteria infection. Additionally we determined in silico differential expression between the two infections. In this context the construction and analysis of a total of ten cDNA libraries are described; six cDNA libraries were from tissues of the European seabass infected with V. anguillarum (liver, spleen, head kidney, peritoneal exudate, gill and intestine) with peritoneal exudate, gill and intestine as target organs for V. anguillarum infections, and four cDNA libraries were from tissues of the European seabass infected with Nodavirus (liver, spleen, head kidney and brain) with the brain as target organ of the virus. Comparisons between the predicted European seabass peptide data set and the zebrafish, medaka, stickleback, tetraodon and human proteomes were performed. Genes showing in silico differential expression between Nodavirus infection and V. anguillarum infection were further analysed by real-time PCR.
Summary of ESTs from the cDNA libraries infected with Nodavirus and V. anguillarum
Summary of sequences derived of cDNA libraries of D. labrax tissue infected with V. anguillarum (a) and Nodavirus (b)
% of unique sequences
% of unique sequences
EST matches with known function
Transcripts isolated for the first time in D. labrax and grouped to the GO category" immune system process"
alpha-1-microglobulin bikunin precursor
b-cell leukemia lymphoma 6
bcl2 adenovirus e1b 19 kda interacting protein 3
beta-2 microglobulin precursor
ccaat enhancer binding protein (c ebp)beta
cd59-like protein 2
cell division cycle 42
NP_956159, AAH48035, AAH75761, AAX20139, CAM56524, AAI64988
chemokine (c-c motif) ligand 13
chemokine (c-c motif) ligand 21b
chemokine (c-c motif) ligand 25
chemokine (c-x-c motif) ligand 12b (stromal cell-derived factor 1)
NP_840092, AAN64414, AAS92649, AAI09418
chemokine (c-x-c motif) ligand 9
chemokine (c-x-c motif) receptor 4
chemokine cxc-like protein
complement component 1 q subcomponent
complement component 1 qb chain
complement component 5
complement component 7
complement component alpha polypeptide
complement component c3
complement component c4
complement component c5-1
complement component c9
complement component factor h
complement component gamma polypeptide
complement component1, q gamma polypeptide
complement component beta subunit
complement component q subcomponent binding protein
complement component r subcomponent
complement factor b
complement factor d preproprotein
complement factor h
NP_001117876, CAF05664, CAF05665
complement factor h-related 1
NP_999009, O19062 BAA21473
cu zn superoxide dismutase
deah (asp-glu-ala-his) box polypeptide 16
NP_956318, AAH45393, AAI65206
ets-1 transcript variant ets-1 delta(iii-vi)
ferritin heavy chain
NP_001117129, P49946, AAB34575
heat shock 10 kda protein 1 (chaperonin 10)
heat shock 70 kda protein 4
hemoglobin alpha chain
hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase 1
integrin beta 2
BAB39130, NP_990582, CAA50671
interleukin 18 receptor accessory protein
interleukin 1 type i
interleukin 1 type ii
interleukin 2 receptor gamma chain
interleukin enhancer binding factor 3
interleukin-1 receptor type ii
interleukin-1 receptor type ii
macrophage migration inhibitory factor
major histocompatibility complex class i a chain
mhc class i alpha antigen
mhc class i antigen
mitochondrial ribosomal protein s18b
NP_001106610, AAI52129, AAI55448
natural resistance-associated macrophage protein
novel protein vertebrate complement component 3
otuubiquitin aldehyde binding 1
Proteasome activator subunit 1 (pa28 alpha)
protein kinase alpha
rhamnose binding lectin
ribosomal protein s19
sam domain- and hd domain-containing protein 1
serum amyloid p-component
P12246 AAA40093, CAA34774, AAH61125, AAY88178, BAE25796, BAE38344, EDL39002
sffv proviral integration 1
sh2 containing inositol-5-phosphatase
skin mucus lectin
strawberry notch homolog 2
tnf superfamily member 14
transcription factor 3 isoform cra_b
transforming growth beta receptor ii (70 80 kda)
vascular endothelial growth factor
x-box binding protein 1
Although viral and bacterial infections are among the key challenges in fish aquaculture, nevertheless today the immune response of fish against V. anguillarum and Nodavirus remains largely unknown. Identification of genes involved in the immune response as well as the detection of differentially expressed genes between the two infections can make a significant contribution to future research leading to a better understanding of the biological system of immune response after fish infection. In the present study ten cDNA libraries, six from tissues infected with V. anguillarum and four from tissues infected with Nodavirus were analysed. Analysis of EST sequences coming from infected tissues will enhance the construction of an immune specific microarray chip containing already known transcripts involved in immune-related biological processes, such as the immune response as well as transcripts for which no annotation is available so far. Furthermore, transcripts indicating a higher expression level in one of the infections can be taken for future functional studies at RNA or DNA level as well as at protein level.
Comparison of predicted seabass genes compared to the genomes of zebrafish, medaka, tetraodon, stickleback and human (Fig. 2) showed that the majority of putative proteins were located in the centre. From separate examination of the different triads a bias towards the top and right sections is revealed. This bias is not unexpected as seabass is more closely related to medaka, zebrafish, stickleback and tetraodon. However it is worth noting, that the seabass cytochrome b seems to be more similar to human cytochrome b than to the tetraodon and medaka cytochrome b as shown in Fig. 2. This was not the case with stickleback and zebrafish cytochrome b. Interestingly, results from comparisons of putative proteins of the Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) with the human, zebrafish and tetraodon protein database showed that the halibut cytochrome c oxidase subunit 3 (Cox3) is more similar to human COX3 than the zebrafish and tetraodon Cox3 . Comparison of predicted proteins with only the protein database of fish genomes shows a slight bias towards medaka and stickleback looking at the triad medaka, stickleback and tetraodon (Fig. 3A) and again a slight bias towards medaka and stickleback looking at the triad stickleback, medaka and zebrafish (Fig. 3B). These results give a first insight towards the evolution of immune related genes as the relatively equal distribution indicate that sequence variation between the clade Percomorpha is comparable to that between the clade Percomorpha and Ostariophysi.
For in silico expression analysis transcript appearing more than once in the cDNA libraries were selected and their relative abundance were submitted to expression analysis after Stekel et al. . Validation of in silico analysis was performed by qPCR. Individual variation may be masked in this approach as pooling strategy was chosen for qPCR experiments. The differential expressed transcripts detected in the present study can be further put forward for analysis of individual expression pattern. Nonetheless in order to study individual expression pattern the sampling frame has to be extended. In the present study the pooling strategy for qPCR was chosen in order to show cross-method consistency. However since results are consistent between the two approaches, influence of between individuals variability in response to infection has been addressed to some extent. In addition total RNA for qPCR analysis was extracted out of different individuals than the once used for cDNA library construction and patterns appear to be consistent between the different samples for all the selected candidate genes, which reflect the robustness of the approach and the small, if any bias, contributed by individual outliers. In silico expression analysis revealed a number of genes for R > 6 that are considerably above the exponential curve (see Additional file 6). Genes with R > 6 can be considered as significant and thus are candidate genes for further studies. Several of those transcripts including transcripts involved in iron metabolism such as ferritin and transferrin are also reported as differential expressed genes in the catfish Ictalurus punctatus and Ictalurus furcatus infected with the gram negative bacterium Edwardsiella ictaluri [27, 28]. One of the main mechanisms whereby gram-negative bacteria pathogens like V. anguillarum obtain iron is the use of free heme or heme proteins from the host tissues . The heme uptake mechanisms are considered to contribute to V. anguillarum virulence in fish . However, it is surprising that Nodavirus infection also resulted in the up-regulation of transferrin and ferritin expression, especially within 24 h of infection. The abundance of transferrin transcripts in Nodavirus-infected tissues may not be related to the alteration of the iron metabolism by the pathogen but rather to the ability of enzymatically cleaved forms of this protein to activate fish macrophages . The specific alteration of iron metabolism by V. anguillarum infection is also supported by the higher abundance of transcripts coding for hepcidin, a major homeostatic regulator of iron metabolism , and for α and β chains of hemoglobin in V. anguillarum- than Nodavirus-infected livers (255 clones vs. 1 clone, respectively). The expression of Hepicidin after bacterial infection has been shown in seabass  as well as in several other fish species like the striped bass , the red sea bream , the catfish [35, 36], the Atlantic halibut , the zebrafish , the rainbow trout  and the perch . In this study the qPCR experiments confirmed the up-regulation of hepicidin in D. labrax after infection with V. anguillarum and showed in addition to this, that the expression of hepcidin might be considered as an excellent marker of bacterial infections, since it was up-regulated in all examined tissues of V. anguillarum-infected fish but unaffected in Nodavirus-infected tissues. Another interesting observation of the in silico gene expression analysis is the differential abundance of transcripts encoding the isoforms A and B glycolytic/gluconeogenic enzyme fructose-1,6-biphopshate aldolase in bacterial and viral infected tissues. Although the role played by this enzyme in the outcome of these infections is difficult to anticipate due to its dual role in glucose metabolism, these results suggest that the expression ratio between the two enzyme isoforms may be used as a good indicator of the type of infection in the European seabass. Thus, the up-regulation of the B isoform in the spleen exclusively by V. anguillarum might be considered another potential marker for this bacterial infection. Similarly, apolipoprotein A1 and 14 kDa apolipoprotein, two major components of high density lipoproteins (HDL) and synthesized in the fish liver , also show a differential expression in the liver of fish infected with V. anguillarum and Nodavirus following the time course and, therefore, they also may be good candidate indicators of the fish health status and/or the type of infection. The real-time PCR confirmed observations of in silico expression analysis and also revealed that the expression of the 14 kDa apolipoprotein and aldolase B in the spleen is an appropriate marker of Nodavirus and V. anguillarum infections, respectively. Previous studies in carp and medaka have also shown the involvement of apolipoproteins in the immune response [42, 43]. Finally, the differential expression of one of the clear immune-related genes, the chemokine receptor 4, was also found to be a good putative marker for V. anguillarum infection. For assessment of variability of putative markers further studies looking at individuals, exposed to other environmental or pathogenic conditions are needed to exclude possible biological variability caused by infections.
In this study we generated a collection of EST sequences from tissues of the European seabass infected with V. anguillarum and Nodavirus. We compared gene expression of different tissues after viral and pathogenic bacteria infection. A collection of 3075 unigenes was generated and candidate microsatellite sequences detected. Furthermore, comparisons of D. labrax transcripts with zebrafish, human, tetraodon, medaka and stickleback were performed. The majority of putative proteins were located in the centre with a bias towards the right sections, with D. labrax as expected being more closely related to the other fish species than to human. Comparison of putative D. labrax proteins was also performed among fish species. In this case a slight bias towards stickleback and medaka was observed when comparing medaka, stickleback and tetraodon and a slight bias towards stickleback and medaka was observed when comparing medaka, stickleback and zebrafish. Furthermore, in silico analysis of differential gene expression between the two infections based on EST sequences suggests a list of genes with a presumed function in the immune response of D. labrax revealing also the importance of looking at "non-classical" immune host proteins and emphasizing the significance of EST sequences generated from cDNA libraries of infected fish tissues. In addition, we show the power of sequencing cDNA sequences for expression analysis by performing real-time PCR experiments for transcripts with high, medium and low R-value. In view of new and high throughput sequence techniques detection of differential expression by measuring in silico the abundance of each transcript will enhance significantly the era of functional genomics. Furthermore in silico analysis in this study, followed by the confirmation with real-time PCR of potentially interested genes, has revealed some of them as potential biomarkers for bacterial and viral infections in fish.
Experimental condition and tissues collection
Two infections, one with Nodavirus strain 475-9/99 isolated from diseased sea bass [from the Instituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (Italy) ] and one with V. anguillarum strain R-82 (serogoup 01) [from the University of Santiago (Spain) ] were performed with seabass as previously described [14, 16]. Tissues were taken 4 and 24 h post-infection. Three tissue types (spleen, liver and head kidney) of each experimental condition as well as peritoneal exudate, gill, intestine from V. anguillarum infection and brain from Nodavirus infection were selected and immediately frozen with liquid nitrogen. The experiments described comply with the guidelines of the European Union Council (86/609/EU) for the use of laboratory animals and have been approved by the Bioethical Committee of the University of Murcia (Spain) and the CSIC National Committee on Bioethics.
In brief; For Nodavirus infection fish were injected intramuscularly with 100 μl of nodavirus suspension in Minimum Essential Medium (MEM) (5.9 × 106 TCID50 ml-1) and placed at 25°C. Mock-infected control fish were injected with the medium alone, and maintained under the same experimental conditions. Three fish from each experimental and control groups were sampled 4 and 24 hours post-infection. Animals were sacrificed by anesthetic (MS-222) overdose and dissected. For the present study brain, spleen, head kidney and liver were sampled. For V. anguillarum infection fish were injected intraperitoneally (i.p.) with 1 ml of phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) alone or containing either 2 × 106 live or 108 formalin-killed V. anguillarum R82 cells (serogroup 01). Under these experimental conditions, about half of the fish were moribund at 24 h post-infection and all of them died within 48 h post-infection. Head kidney (bone marrow equivalent of fish) and peritoneal exudate cells were obtained 4 h and 24 h after bacterial challenge.
Total RNA was extracted using the NucleoSplin RNA II extraction kit (Machinery Nagel, Dueren, Germany). RNA quality was checked on EtBr stained agarose gels and RNA concentrations and purity were measured using a NanoDrop spectrophotometer. For library construction equal amounts of total RNA extracted out of infected tissues (4 h and 24 h) were pooled. For qPCR experiments total RNA was freshly extracted out of infected tissues originating from three different individuals pooled prior to RNA extraction (liver, spleen and head kidney) with 4 h and 24 h post-infection.
cDNA library construction
All libraries were constructed from total RNA using the Creator SMART cDNA library construction kit (BD Bioscience-Clontech, Mountain View, Canada) using the LD PCR based method. Between 20 and 22 PCR cycles were performed before size separation of inserts. cDNA fragments > 600 bp were selected and directionally ligated at the restriction site Sfi1 of the pDNR-lib vector (BD Clontech) or the pal 32 vector. Plasmids were transformed into E. coli strain DH10B (Invitrogen) by electroporation. The libraries were tested for the presence and the size of insert by PCR using two primer pairs. For the libraries constructed with pal 32 vector, the primer pair pal 32 FOR: 5'-CTCGGGAAGCGCGCCATT-3' and pal 32, REV: 5'-TAATACGACTCACTATAGGGC-3' were used. For the libraries constructed with pDNR-lib vector pDNR FOR: 5'-TAAAACGACGGCCAGTA-3' pDNR REV: 5'-GAAACAGCTATGACCATGTTC-3' were used. The products were run on an EtBr stained agarose gel.
After plasmid preparation, dideoxy-temination DNA cycle sequencing was performed using the BigDye 3.1 sequencing method and the pDNR FOR (5'-TAAAACGACGGCCAGTA-3') primer. The sequences were run on an ABI 3730 XL sequencer at MPI Molecular Genetics, Berlin.
The raw sequence reads were quality-trimmed and vector- and poly-A-clipped using PREGAP4 . Clustering (grouping of clones related to one another by sequence homology) was performed using the software SeqManII (DNAstar Inc.). After clustering the term 'contig' is used to describe the sequence obtained from one cluster (the sequences of a cluster can be collapsed into a single, non-redundant sequence) and the term 'singleton' describes sequences appearing only once in the entire dataset. The set of sequences obtained by merging contigs and singletons are named as unique sequences.
Simple Sequence Repeats (SSR) in EST sequences
Homology search and GO annotation
Gene Ontology (GO) category (Biological process) was assigned after BLASTX search of 3075 unique EST sequences using BLAST2GO. Threshold cutoff was at E-value 1e-3 and the alignment length of 33 amino acids (aa).
The unique sequences from all seabass libraries were submitted to BLASTX similarity searches  against the zebrafish, tetraodon, stickleback, medaka and human predicted proteomes (downloadable from http://www.ensembl.org/index.html). For each database the highest BLAST scores (bit score values) in excess of 50 were retained. Relative similarities between triads were visualized as a triangular plot generated by the SimiTri software .
All sequences of each cDNA library were submitted to BLASTX and BLASTN searches . Transcripts appearing more than once in the cDNA libraries were selected for in silico expression analysis after Stekel et al. . In brief, this method allows the comparison of gene expression in any number of libraries in order to identify differential expressed genes. The method uses a single statistical test to describe the extent to which a gene is differentially expressed between libraries by a log likelihood ratio statistic and tends asymptotically to a χ2 distribution . For real-time PCR experiments transcripts with high, medium and low R-value were selected.
Real-time primer sequences
The authors would like to thank Margaret Eleftheriou for carefully proofreading the manuscript. This work was supported by the European Commission's 5th Framework Programme WEALTH (Contract No. 501984, Welfare and health in sustainable aquaculture [WEALTH]).
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