Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal, contagious, neurodegenerative prion disease affecting both free-ranging and captive cervid species. CWD is spread via direct or indirect contact or oral ingestion of prions. In the gastrointestinal tract, prions enter the body through microfold cells (M-cells), and the abundance of these cells can be influenced by the gut microbiota. To explore potential links between the gut microbiota and CWD, we collected fecal samples from farmed and free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) around the Midwest, USA. Farmed deer originated from farms that were depopulated due to CWD. Free-ranging deer were sampled during annual deer harvests. All farmed deer were tested for CWD via ELISA and IHC, and we used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to characterize the gut microbiota. We report significant differences in gut microbiota by provenance (Farm 1, Farm 2, Free-ranging), sex, and CWD status. CWD-positive deer from Farm 1 and 2 had increased abundances of Akkermansia, Lachnospireacea UCG-010, and RF39 taxa. Overall, differences by provenance and sex appear to be driven by diet, while differences by CWD status may be linked to CWD pathogenesis.
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