Immunology of a transmissible cancer spreading among tasmanian devils

Gregory M. Woods, Lauren J. Howson, Gabriella K. Brown, Cesar Tovar, Alexandre Kreiss, Lynn M. Corcoran, A. Bruce Lyons

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) is a transmissible cancer that has killed most of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrissii) population. Since the first case appeared in the mid-1990s, it has spread relentlessly across the Tasmanian devil's geographic range. As Tasmanian devils only exist in Tasmania, Australia, DFTD has the potential to cause extinction of this species. The origin of DFTD was a Schwann cell from a female devil. The disease is transmitted when devils bite each other around the facial areas, a behavior synonymous with this species. Every devil that is 'infected' with DFTD dies from the cancer. Once the DFTD cells have been transmitted, they appear to develop into a cancer without inducing an immune response. The DFTD cancer cells avoid allogeneic recognition because they do not express MHC class I molecules on the cell surface. A reduced genetic diversity and the production of immunosuppressive cytokines may also contribute.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-29
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes

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