Corticosterone regulates physiological changes preparing wild birds for migration. It also modulates the immune system and may lead to increased susceptibility to infection, with implications for the spread of pathogens, including highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1. The red knot (Calidris canutus islandica) displays migratory changes in captivity and was used as a model to assess the effect of high plasma concentration of corticosterone on HPAIV H5N1 infection. We inoculated knots during pre-migration (N = 6), fueling (N = 5), migration (N = 9) and post-migration periods (N = 6). Knots from all groups shed similar viral titers for up to 5 days post-inoculation (dpi), peaking at 1 to 3 dpi. Lesions of acute encephalitis, associated with virus replication in neurons, were seen in 1 to 2 knots per group, leading to neurological disease and death at 5 to 11 dpi. Therefore, the risk of HPAIV H5N1 infection in wild birds and of potential transmission between wild birds and poultry may be similar at different times of the year, irrespective of wild birds' migratory status. However, in knots inoculated during the migration period, viral shedding levels positively correlated with pre-inoculation plasma concentration of corticosterone. Of these, knots that did not become productively infected had lower plasma concentration of corticosterone. Conversely, elevated plasma concentration of corticosterone did not result in an increased probability to develop clinical disease. These results suggest that birds with elevated plasma concentration of corticosterone at the time of migration (ready to migrate) may be more susceptible to acquisition of infection and shed higher viral titers-before the onset of clinical disease-than birds with low concentration of corticosterone (not ready for take-off). Yet, they may not be more prone to the development of clinical disease. Therefore, assuming no effect of sub-clinical infection on the likelihood of migratory take-off, this may favor the spread of HPAIV H5N1 by migratory birds over long distances.,
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Reperant, L.A, van de Bildt, M.W.G, van Amerongen, G, Buehler, D.M, Osterhaus, A.D.M.E, Jenni-Eiermann, S, … Kuiken, T. (2011). Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 infection in a long-distance migrant shorebird under migratory and non-migratory states. PLoS ONE, 6(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027814