Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an invariably fatal neurologic disease that naturally infects mule deer, white tailed deer and elk. The understanding of CWD neurodegeneration at a molecular level is very limited. In this study, microarray analysis was performed to determine changes in the gene expression profiles in six different tissues including brain, midbrain, thalamus, spleen, RPLN and tonsil of CWD-infected elk in comparison to non-infected healthy elk, using 24,000 bovine specific oligo probes. In total, 329 genes were found to be differentially expressed (> 2.0-fold) between CWD negative and positive brain tissues, with 132 genes upregulated and 197 genes downregulated. There were 249 DE genes in the spleen (168 up and 81 downregulated), 30 DE genes in the retropharyngeal lymph node (RPLN) (18 up and 12 downregulated), and 55 DE genes in the tonsil (21 up and 34 downregulated). Using Gene Ontology (GO), the DE genes were assigned to functional groups associated with cellular process, biological regulation, metabolic process, and regulation of biological process. For all brain tissues, the highest ranking networks for DE genes identified by Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) were associated with neurological disease, cell morphology, cellular assembly and organization. Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) validated the expression of DE genes primarily involved in different regulatory pathways, including neuronal signaling and synapse function, calcium signaling, apoptosis and cell death and immune cell trafficking and inflammatory response. This is the first study to evaluate altered gene expression in multiple organs including brain from orally infected elk and the results will improve our understanding of CWD neurodegeneration at the molecular level.
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