Gene Expression Associated with White Syndromes in a Reef Building Coral, Acropora Hyacinthus
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Corals are capable of launching diverse immune defenses at the site of direct contact with pathogens, but the molecular mechanisms of this activity and the colony-wide effects of such stressors remain poorly understood. Here we compared gene expression profiles in eight healthy Acropora hyacinthus colonies against eight colonies exhibiting tissue loss commonly associated with white syndromes, all collected from a natural reef environment near Palau. Two types of tissues were sampled from diseased corals: visibly affected and apparently healthy. Results: Tag-based RNA-Seq followed by weighted gene co-expression network analysis identified groups of co-regulated differentially expressed genes between all health states (disease lesion, apparently healthy tissues of diseased colonies, and fully healthy). Differences between healthy and diseased tissues indicate activation of several innate immunity and tissue repair pathways accompanied by reduced calcification and the switch towards metabolic reliance on stored lipids. Unaffected parts of diseased colonies, although displaying a trend towards these changes, were not significantly different from fully healthy samples. Still, network analysis identified a group of genes, suggestive of altered immunity state, that were specifically up-regulated in unaffected parts of diseased colonies. Conclusions: Similarity of fully healthy samples to apparently healthy parts of diseased colonies indicates that systemic effects of white syndromes on A. hyacinthus are weak, which implies that the coral colony is largely able to sustain its physiological performance despite disease. The genes specifically up-regulated in unaffected parts of diseased colonies, instead of being the consequence of disease, might be related to the originally higher susceptibility of these colonies to naturally occurring white syndromes.