Our previous study demonstrated that ginseng stem-leaf saponins (GSLS) in combination with selenium (GSLS-Se) have adjuvant effect on the live vaccine of Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) in intraocular-and-intranasal immunization in chickens. The present study was to investigate the potential molecular mechanisms involved in the immunomodulation of GSLS-Se on the Harderian gland (HG). It was found that the window allowing animals susceptible to infections due to low antibody titers became smaller or even completely closed because of increased NDV-specific HI titers when NDV vaccine and GSLS-Se were coadministered for immunization at early life in chickens. In addition, NDV-specific sIgA and the numbers of IgG+, IgA+, IgM+ plasma cells were significantly more in GSLS-Se group than the control in the HGs. Transcriptome analysis of HGs identified 1184 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between GSLS-Se treated and non-treated groups. Gene ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) enrichment analyses identified 42 significantly enriched GO terms and 13 canonical immune pathways. These findings indicated that GSLS-Se might exert immunomodulatory effects through influencing the antioxidant regulation and modulating the activity of immune related enzymes. Besides, Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling pathway and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway might be involved primarily in the immunomodulation. Therefore, enhanced antibody responses in GSLS-Se group may be attributed to the immunomodulatory effects of GSLS-Se on the immune-related gene profile expressed in the immunocompetent cells of the HGs.
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