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The European badger is recognised as a wildlife reservoir for bovine tuberculosis (bTB); the control of which is complex, costly and controversial. Despite the importance of badgers in bTB and the well-documented role for macrophages as anti-mycobacterial effector cells, badger macrophage (bdMφ) responses remain uncharacterised. Here, we demonstrate that bdMφ fail to produce nitric oxide (NO) or upregulate inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA following Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonist treatment. BdMφ also failed to make NO after stimulation with recombinant badger interferon gamma (bdIFNγ) or a combination of bdIFNγ and lipopolysaccharide. Exposure of bdMφ to TLR agonists and/or bdIFNγ resulted in upregulated cytokine (IL1β, IL6, IL12 and TNFα) mRNA levels indicating that these critical pathways were otherwise intact. Although stimulation with most TLR agonists resulted in strong cytokine mRNA responses, weaker responses were evident after exposure to TLR9 agonists, potentially due to very low expression of TLR9 in bdMφ. Both NO and TLR9 are important elements of innate immunity to mycobacteria, and these features of bdMφ biology would impair their capacity to resist bTB infection. These findings have significant implications for the development of bTB management strategies, and support the use of vaccination to reduce bTB infection in badgers.

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Sci Rep

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