Cellular immune function in four rhinoceros species was evaluated by way of in vitro lymphocyte proliferation responses to mitogenic and antigenic stimuli to establish normative data on white blood cell activity for each species and to identify species-specific differences that might help explain the predisposition of black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis) to disease. A cross section of the U.S. rhinoceros population encompassing all four captive species was sampled, including the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) (n = 3); Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) (n = 4); African black rhinoceros (n = 16); and African white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) (n = 10). Of the four species evaluated, African black rhinoceroses exhibited the weakest (P < 0.05) lymphocyte proliferative responses to the mitogens: pokeweed (0.1 μg/ml), phytohemagglutinin (0.3 μg/ml), and concanavalin A (5.0 μg/ml). Total cell density at the end of culture was only 70% of that achieved with lymphocytes isolated from African white rhinoceroses, Indian rhinoceroses, and Sumatran rhinoceroses. However, lymphocyte response to bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide was similar (P > 0.05) across species. Antigenic stimulation produced much weaker responses than mitogenic stimulation. No differences (P > 0.05) were observed among rhinoceros species in response to 1 and 10 μg/ml of Leptospira icterohemorrhagiae or Leptospira gryppotyphosa. Lymphocytes from African white rhinoceroses proliferated weakly in the presence of Aspergillus fumigatus filtrate, whereas lymphocytes from the southern black rhinoceros subspecies appeared slightly suppressed in the presence of increasing doses (0.1, 1, and 10 μg/ml) of Aspergillus filtrate. This comparative data set characterizing lymphocyte proliferation in the rhinoceros reveals several differences in immune cell responses among rhinoceros species and provides some evidence that lymphocytes of captive African black rhinoceroses are less vigorous than those of the other rhinoceros species.
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Vol. 35 • No. 4