Thymus transcriptome reveals novel pathways in response to avian pathogenic Escherichia coli infection
Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) are a substantial burden to the global poultry industry. APEC cause a syndromic poultry infection known as colibacillosis, which has been previously associated with broiler chickens over 2 weeks old. We recently reported that the intestinal tract of 1-day-old broilers harbours a rich reservoir of potentially pathogenic E. coli. Prior infections of the reproductive tract of breeders, egg hygiene and transportation all contribute to early colonization of the neonatal gut. Up to one-half of all flock deaths occur in the first week of production, but few data are available describing the contribution of E. coli. In the present study, all dead birds collected on the first daily welfare walk 48 and 72 h after chick placement underwent post-mortem examination. Diseased tissues were selectively cultured for E. coli and isolates subsequently virulotyped using 10 APEC virulence-associated genes (VAGs): astA, iss, irp2, iucD, papC, tsh, vat, cvi, sitA and ibeA. Approximately 70% of birds displayed signs of colibacillosis. Thirty distinct virulence profiles were identified among 157 E. coli. Isolates carried between zero and seven VAGs; ∼ 30% of E. coli isolates carried five to seven VAGs, with 12.7% sharing the same VAG profile (astA, iss, irp2, iucD, tsh, cvi and sitA). Overall, this study demonstrates the significant contribution of E. coli infections to early broiler mortalities. The identification of a diverse E. coli population is unsurprising based on our previous findings. This work emphasizes the need for an effective vaccination programme and provides preliminary data for vaccine production.