Transmissible Cancers and Immune Downregulation in Tasmanian Devil (Sacrophilus harrisii) and Canine Populations

Ravinder S. Chale, Neda Ghiam, Stephanie A. McNamara, Joaquin J. Jimenez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Known as devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) and canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT), transmissible cancer occurs in both Tasmanian devil and canine populations, respectively. Both malignancies show remarkable ability to be transmitted as allografts into subsequent hosts. How DFTD and CTVT avoid detection by immunocompetent hosts is of particular interest, given that these malignancies are rarely seen in other species in nature. Both of these transmissible cancers can downregulate the host immune system, enabling proliferation. DFTD is characterized by epigenetic modifications to the DNA promoter regions of β2 microglobulin, transporters associated with antigen processing 1 and 2, MHC I, and MHC II-crucial proteins required in the detection and surveillance of foreign material. Downregulation during DFTD may be achieved by altering the activity of histone deacetylases. DFTD has caused widespread destruction of devil populations, placing the species on the brink of extinction. CTVT demonstrates a proliferative phase, during which the tumor evades immune detection, allowing it to proliferate, and a regressive phase when hosts mount an effective immune response. Alteration of TGFβ signaling in CTVT likely impedes the antigen-processing capabilities of canine hosts in addition to hindering the ability of natural killer cells to detect immune system downregulation. Immunosuppressive cytokines such as CXCL7 may contribute to a favorable microenvironment that supports the proliferation of CTVT. When viewed from an evolutionary paradigm, both DFTD and CTVT may conform to a model of host-parasite coevolution. Furthermore, various genetic features, such as genetically active transposons in CTVT and chromosomal rearrangements in DFTD, play important roles in promoting the survival of these disease agents. Understanding the mode of transmission for these transmissible cancers may shed light on mechanisms for human malignancies and reveal opportunities for treatment in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-298
Number of pages8
JournalComparative Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • veterinary(all)


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