Immune evasion or avoidance: fungal skin infection linked to reduced defence peptides in Australian green-eyed treefrogs, Litoria serrata.


Many parasites and pathogens suppress host immunity to maintain infection or initiate disease. On the skin of many amphibians, defensive peptides are active against the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the causative agent of the emerging infectious disease chytridiomycosis. We tested the hypothesis that infection with the fungus may be linked to lower levels of defensive peptides. We sampled both ambient (or constitutive) skin peptides on the ventral surface immediately upon capture, and stored skin peptides induced from granular glands by norepinephrine administration of Australian green-eyed treefrogs, Litoria serrata. Upon capture, uninfected frogs expressed an array of antimicrobial peptides on their ventral surface, whereas infected frogs had reduced skin peptide expression. Expression of ambient skin peptides differed with infection status, and antimicrobial peptides maculatin 1.1 and 2.1 were on average three times lower on infected frogs. However, the repertoire of skin peptides stored in granular glands did not differ with infection status; on average equal quantities were recovered from infected and from uninfected frogs. Our results could have at least two causes: (1) frogs with reduced peptide expression are more likely to become infected; (2) Bd infection interferes with defence peptides by inhibiting release or causing selective degradation of peptides on the skin surface. Immune evasion therefore may contribute to the pathogenesis of chytridiomycosis and a mechanistic understanding of this fungal strategy may lead to improved methods of disease control.