Amphibian immune defenses against chytridiomycosis: impacts of changing environments.


Eco-immunology is the field of study that attempts to understand the functions of the immune system in the context of the host's environment. Amphibians are currently suffering devastating declines and extinctions in nearly all parts of the world due to the emerging infectious disease chytridiomycosis caused by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Because chytridiomycosis is a skin infection and remains confined to the skin, immune defenses of the skin are critical for survival. Skin defenses include secreted antimicrobial peptides and immunoglobulins as well as antifungal metabolites produced by symbiotic skin bacteria. Low temperatures, toxic chemicals, and stress inhibit the immune system and may impair natural defenses against B. dendrobatidis. Tadpoles' mouth parts can be infected by B. dendrobatidis. Damage to the mouth parts can impair growth, and the affected tadpoles maintain the pathogen in the environment even when adults have dispersed. Newly metamorphosing frogs appear to be especially vulnerable to infection and to the lethal effects of this pathogen because the immune system undergoes a dramatic reorganization at metamorphosis, and postmetamorphic defenses are not yet mature. Here we review our current understanding of amphibian immune defenses against B. dendrobatidis and the ability of the pathogen to resist those defenses. We also briefly review what is known about the impacts of temperature, environmental chemicals, and stress on the host-pathogen interactions and suggest future directions for research.