Elk (Cervus elaphus) are reservoirs for Brucella abortus, Mycobacterium bovis, and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis, each a serious pathogen of domestic livestock. An understanding of the basic immune responsiveness of elk would aid efforts to develop methods to diagnose and prevent these diseases of elk. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) isolated from captive elk were examined for phenotype, lymphocyte subset proliferative capacity, and ability to produce nitric oxide (NO) upon pokeweed mitogen (PWM) stimulation. Although γδ TCR+ cells represented a high percentage of the peripheral blood lymphocyte pool, these cells responded poorly to PWM stimulation. B cells (i.e., sIgM+ cells), conversely, were responsive to PWM stimulation. Addition of PWM to PBMC cultures also resulted in a significant production of nitrite, the stable oxidation product of NO. Similar to other ruminant species, the majority of elk peripheral blood sIgM+ cells co-expressed MHC class II and B-B4, a B cell lineage marker that varies in expression during B cell development. Findings from the present study provide basic information on several parameters of cellular immunity of elk.

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