Dissecting the contributions of time and microbe density to variation in immune gene expression

Ann T. Tate, Andrea Linn Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Widespread differential expression of immunological genes is a hallmark of the response to infection in almost all surveyed taxa. However, several challenges remain in the attempt to connect differences in gene expression with functional outcomes like parasite killing and host survival. For example, temporal gene expression patterns are not always monotonic (unidirectional slope), yielding results that qualitatively depend on the time point selected for analysis. They may also be correlated to microbe density, confounding the strength of an immune response and resistance to parasites. In this study, we analyse these relationships in an mRNA-seq time series of Tribolium castaneum infected with Bacillus thuringiensis. Our results suggest that many extracellular immunological components with known roles in immunity, like antimicrobial peptides and recognition proteins, are highly correlated to microbe load. On the other hand, intracellular components of immunological signalling pathways overwhelmingly show non-monotonic temporal patterns of gene expression, despite the underlying assumption of monotonicity in most ecological and comparative transcriptomics studies that rely on cross-sectional analyses. Our results raise a host of new questions, including to what extent variation in host resistance, infection tolerance and immunopathology can be explained by variation in the slope or sensitivity of these newly characterized patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170727
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1859
StatePublished - Jul 26 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Disease ecology
  • Ecological immunology
  • Gene expression
  • Host
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Pathogen interactions
  • Tribolium castaneum


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