Antiviral Immune Responses of Bats: A Review


M. L. Baker. CSIRO Livestock Industries, Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Geelong, Vic. 3220, Australia. Tel.: (61 3) 5227 5052; Fax: (61 3) 5227 5555; E-mail:


Despite being the second most species-rich and abundant group of mammals, bats are also among the least studied, with a particular paucity of information in the area of bat immunology. Although bats have a long history of association with rabies, the emergence and re-emergence of a number of viruses from bats that impact human and animal health has resulted in a resurgence of interest in bat immunology. Understanding how bats coexist with viruses in the absence of disease is essential if we are to begin to develop therapeutics to target viruses in humans and susceptible livestock and companion animals. Here, we review the current status of knowledge in the field of bat antiviral immunology including both adaptive and innate mechanisms of immune defence and highlight the need for further investigations in this area. Because data in this field are so limited, our discussion is based on both scientific discoveries and theoretical predictions. It is hoped that by provoking original, speculative or even controversial ideas or theories, this review may stimulate further research in this important field. Efforts to understand the immune systems of bats have been greatly facilitated in recent years by the availability of partial genome sequences from two species of bats, a megabat, Pteropus vampyrus, and a microbat, Myotis lucifugus, allowing the rapid identification of immune genes. Although bats appear to share most features of the immune system with other mammals, several studies have reported qualitative and quantitative differences in the immune responses of bats. These observations warrant further investigation to determine whether such differences are associated with the asymptomatic nature of viral infections in bats.