Differential expression of microRNAs in the caecal content and faeces of broiler chickens experimentally infected with Eimeria

Jonathan Williams, Francesca Soutter, Caela Burrell, Shayara Fernando, Dong Xia, Jennifer Irving, Sarah Williams-McDonald, Sungwon Kim, Damer P Blake

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Coccidiosis caused by Eimeria spp. incurs significant morbidity and mortality in chickens, and is thus of great economic importance. Post-mortem intestinal lesion scoring remains one of the most common means of diagnosis; therefore alternative, non-invasive methods of diagnosis and monitoring would be highly desirable. Micro-RNAs (miRNAs) have been shown to be stable in faeces of human and animal species with expression altered in gastrointestinal disease. We hypothesized that miRNA is stable in caecal content of chickens, and that differential miRNA expression patterns would be seen in Eimeria-infected versus uninfected individuals. Initially, RNA was extracted from Eimeria tenella-infected (n = 3; 7 days post infection) and uninfected (n = 3) chicken caecal content to demonstrate miRNA stability. Subsequently, next-generation miRNA sequencing was performed on caecal content from E. tenella-infected chickens with high (lesion score (LS) 3–4; n = 3) or low (LS1; n = 3) levels of pathology, and uninfected controls (n = 3). Comparative analysis identified 19 miRNAs that exhibited significantly altered expression in the caecal content of E. tenella, infected chickens versus uninfected chickens (t-test, False Discovery Rate (FDR) < 0.05). Eight of these miRNAs showed significant up-regulation in infection (fold change of 9.8–105, FDR <0.05). Quantitative PCR was performed using separate biological replicates to confirm differential regulation in eight of these miRNA candidates in caecal and faecal content. This work has identified a panel of miRNA candidates which may be appropriate for use as non-invasive faecal markers of active caecal coccidiosis without the need for culling. RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTSE. tenella induced differential miRNA expression in caecal content and faeces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-405
Number of pages11
JournalAvian Pathology
Issue number4
Early online date15 Jun 2022
Publication statusPrint publication - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Chickens
  • coccidiosis
  • diagnostics
  • Eimeria tenella
  • micro-RNA
  • miRNA


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