Dynamics of Humoral Immunity to Myxoma and Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Viruses in Wild European Rabbits Assessed by Longitudinal Semiquantitative Serology

Microbiology Spectrum


Myxoma virus (MYXV) and rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) are important drivers of the population decline of the European rabbit, an endangered keystone species. Both viruses elicit strong immune responses, but the long-term dynamics of humoral immunity are imperfectly known. This study aimed to assess the determinants of the long-term dynamics of antibodies to each virus based on a longitudinal capture-mark-recapture of wild European rabbits and semiquantitative serological data of MYXV and RHDV GI.2-specific IgG. The study included 611 indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (iELISA) normalized absorbance ratios for each MYXV and RHDV GI.2 from 505 rabbits from 2018 to 2022. Normalized absorbance ratios were analyzed using log-linear mixed models, showing a significant positive relationship with the time since the first capture of individual rabbits, with monthly increases of 4.1% for antibodies against MYXV and 2.0% against RHDV GI.2. Individual serological histories showed fluctuations over time, suggesting that reinfections boosted the immune response and likely resulted in lifelong immunity. Normalized absorbance ratios significantly increased with the seroprevalence in the population, probably because of recent outbreaks, and with body weight, highlighting the role of MYXV and RHDV GI.2 in determining survival to adulthood. Juvenile rabbits seropositive for both viruses were found, and the dynamics of RHDV GI.2 normalized absorbance ratios suggest the presence of maternal immunity up to 2 months of age. Semiquantitative longitudinal serological data provide epidemiological information, otherwise lost when considering only qualitative data, and support a lifelong acquired humoral immunity to RHDV GI.2 and MYXV upon natural infection.

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