hedgehogs natural immunity

hedgehogs natural immunity

hedgehogs natural immunity

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Hedgehogs get their name from their foraging habits. In the wild, they often root through hedges and undergrowth searching for food while making grunting noises like a pig. Thus the name Hedgehogs!

They are often confused with porcupines because both species have quills, but the two species are not actually related. Hedgehogs and porcupines developed quills independently of each other. Hedgehogs quills are sharp like a needle, where porcupine quills are barbed like a fish hook. Contrary to popular belief, neither species can “shoot” their quills, however, porcupines can release their quills once they have hooked into an attacker (ouch!).

Hedgehogs are immune to snake and scorpion venom

These amazing creatures are immune to some snake and scorpion venom and even some poisonous plants. Hedgehogs can provide themselves with extra protection by performing an act called “self anointing” where they eat these poisonous plants or other smelly things and create a frothy saliva that they vomit all over their spines. This may help hide the hedgehog’s scent, or it may give a predator a poisonous shock if they try to attack. It’s also a surprising behavior to observe, especially if the self-annointer in questions is your pet hedgehog!

Hedgehogs run 8-12 miles every night

Hedgehogs mainly stay on the ground, though some can climb trees and are quite good swimmers. While searching for food, they can run 8-12 miles every night! They often run these same distances in captivity on their wheels.

A hedgehog’s nose can move side to side independently of their head to help pinpoint the source of a smell. They have an excellent sense of smell, and can sniff out a worm up to 2 inches underneath the ground! This helps them locate some of their favorite foods which include insects, small mice, snails, lizards, frogs, eggs, and even snakes and scorpions!

Hedgehog: Linking Uracil to Innate Defense

The ability of the gut epithelium to defend against pathogens while tolerating harmless commensal organisms remains an important puzzle. In this issue of Cell Host & Microbe, Lee et al. (2015) reveal how pathogen-secreted uracil acts at two steps to induce ROS via the Hedgehog pathway.

Main Text

Epithelial barriers represent essential lines of defense against tissue invasion by bacterial and viral pathogens. For a sterile barrier such as the alveolar epithelium of the lung, this challenge boils down to keeping the pathogens and their effectors out. In the setting of a diverse natural ecosystem in the gut, the problem is significantly more complicated. Although pathogenic species must be prevented from invading the host or causing local tissue damage, beneficial or symbiotic bacteria comprising the commensal microbiota require tolerance. Thus, both the innate and adaptive (in vertebrates) immune systems must somehow distinguish friend from foe and respond accordingly.


Drosophila has emerged as an important model genetic system for analyzing gut homeostasis. The Drosophila gut has a high degree of morphologic and ultrastructural similarity to the vertebrate intestine, including the presence of functionally distinct domains analogous to the vertebrate small intestine (midgut) and colon (hindgut), as well as functional similarities such as a capacity for stem cell renewal .

and the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to damage (for review, see Buchon et al., 2013, Kim and Lee, 2014). An important advance in understanding intestinal immune homeostasis was made when Lee and colleagues discovered.

that uracil alerts the Drosophila innate immune system to the presence of enteropathogenic bacteria (Lee et al., 2013), triggering production of antibacterial ROS. In that study, the host pathway(s) mediating the uracil signaling response for ROS production and pathogen neutralization were unknown.

In this issue, Lee et al. now identify the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway as a primary target and effector of uracil (Lee et al., 2015) (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Dual Activities of Uracil in Hedgehog-Mediated Defense against Enteropathogenic Bacteria

Pathogenic (but not commensal) bacteria liberate uracil, which acts via two unknown receptors (U-RX and U-RY) to induce ROS production to combat infection. Activation of U-RX induces Hedgehog (Hh) expression either via.

the known effectors MEKK1/ATF2 (which induce DOUX expression) or by an alternative pathway. Hh is then secreted from cells and binds to Patched (PTC) to relieve inhibition of Smoothened (SMO) signaling.

which in turn inhibits the activity of protein kinase A (PKA) to activate target genes including Cad99C via the transcriptional effector Ci (analogous to Gli proteins in mammals). Activation of the second uracil receptor.

U-RY, leads to internalization of the receptor complex into signaling endosomes (SE), clustering of Cad99C, activation of PLCβ/PKC signaling, Ca2+ release from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), and DUOX-mediated ROS synthesis to kill the pathogenic bacteria.


Simple Summary

Most of the newly emerging infections arise from animal reservoirs, frequently represented by wildlife species. Western European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are mammalian hibernators, mainly nocturnal.

and insectivorous, living in natural open and green spaces as well as artificial, rural and urban, areas. They are generalist predators of macro-invertebrates.

but they may also eat meat, bird eggs and on occasion pet food.

These ecological and feeding habits, along with their high population densities, notable synanthropic attitudes, frequent contacts with sympatric wild .

and domestic species, including humans, implicate the possibility of intra.

– and interspecies interactions accounting for the possible involvement of E. europaeus in the ecology of several potentially emerging pathogens, including coronaviruses. Using PCR-based and virus isolation methods.

we found that 58.3% of 24 hedgehogs’ fecal samples were PCR-positive for Erinaceus coronaviruses (EriCoVs). We did not observe any clinical disease related to the EriCoV infection in hedgehogs.

However, the high mutation rates characterizing members of the Coronaviridae family .

and their potential successful interspecies host jumps.

—as that likely occurred in the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) emergence.

—should be considered in the management of hedgehogs admitted to multi-species wildlife rehabilitation centers, recommending their return back to the original recovery areas.


The Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of the four hedgehog species belonging to the genus Erinaceus.

Among them, E. amurensis is extant in East Asia’s areas only, whereas E. europaeus, E.

roumanicus and E. concolor are mainly found in Europe. E. europaeus is endemically distributed from western to central and southern Europe, including Italy.

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