Ken Field, Associate Professor of Biology
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) that affects bats during hibernation. Although millions of bats have died from WNS in North America, mass mortality has not been observed among European bats infected by the fungus, leading to the suggestion that bats in Europe are immune. We tested the hypothesis that an antibody-mediated immune response can provide protection against WNS by quantifying antibod- ies reactive to Pd in blood samples from seven species of free-ranging bats in North America and two free-ranging species in Europe. We also quantified antibodies in blood samples from little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) that were part of a captive colony that we injected with live Pd spores mixed with adjuvant, as well as individuals surviving a captive Pd infection trial. Seropreva- lence of antibodies against Pd, as well as antibody titers, was greater among lit- tle brown myotis than among four other species of cave-hibernating bats in North America, including species with markedly lower WNS mortality rates. Among little brown myotis, the greatest titers occurred in populations occupy- ing regions with longer histories of WNS, where bats lacked secondary symp- toms of WNS. We detected antibodies cross-reactive with Pd among little brown myotis na€ıve to the fungus. We observed high titers among captive little brown myotis injected with Pd. We did not detect antibodies against Pd in Pd- infected European bats during winter, and titers during the active season were lower than among little brown myotis. These results show that antibody-medi- ated immunity cannot explain survival of European bats infected with Pd and that little brown myotis respond differently to Pd than species with higher WNS survival rates. Although it appears that some species of bats in North America may be developing resistance to WNS, an antibody-mediated immune response does not provide an explanation for these remnant populations.
Johnson, Joseph S.; Reeder, DeeAnn M.; Lilley, Thomas M.; and Field, Ken. “Antibodies to Pseudogymnoascus destructans Are Not Sufficient for Protection Against White-Nose Syndrome.” Ecology and Evolution (2015).