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Douglas F. Antczak, VMD, Ph.D.

Dorothy Havemeyer McConville Professor of Equine Medicine

Doug Antczak’s research program is focused on the health of horses, a passion of his from an early age. Through the Baker Institute’s Equine Genetics Center, the Antczak laboratory group has a long history of advancing basic knowledge and applying that knowledge in equine genetics, immunology, and reproduction. The cord that links these three distinct areas of science together is the intimate relationship between mother and fetus during pregnancy in mammals. A developing fetus is, in a way, like a tissue graft, a foreign piece of material transplanted from another animal. In most cases, the mother’s immune system tolerates this “graft” very well and pregnancy and birth end in a happy result because the placenta provides a protective barrier around the developing embryo and forms the interface with the mother’s uterus. For over 30 years, Dr. Antczak has investigated how the placenta and fetus avoid recognition and destruction by the mother’s immune system. The horse has been a particularly useful species in which to study this question because of several unique features of the equine placenta.

The fetus is able to survive, in part, thanks to genes of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) on the surface of the placenta. These MHC genes encode molecules that are normally targeted by the immune responses that cause graft rejection. By switching off the MHC genes in the placenta, the fetus becomes largely invisible to the mother’s immune system. Studies of this evasion-by-stealth mechanism are relevant to reproductive health not only in horses, but in all animals, including humans, and discoveries in this area could lead to improved methods of organ transplantation, advances in cancer biology, and progress against infectious disease.

To support the Institute’s studies of pregnancy immunology in the horse, Dr. Antczak has developed a unique herd of horses selected for homozygosity at the MHC, meaning they all share the same forms of this important set of immune system genes. Because the horses in these homozygous lines carry identical MHC genes, they can be used for a wide variety of investigations that require detailed knowledge of these cardinal genes of the immune system. Dr. Antczak’s genetic selection and breeding of horses led to his continuing involvement in the international Horse Genome Project. Horses from the Institute’s experimental herd include the Thoroughbred stallion Bravo, the DNA donor for the equine Bacterial Artificial Chromosome library, and Twilight, the Thoroughbred mare whose DNA was the source for the horse genome sequence.

In another project involving the MHC, Dr. Antczak is working equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1), a highly infectious pathogen that causes respiratory infections, abortions, and severe neurologic disease. Together with Dr. Klaus Osterrieder of the Free University of Berlin and Dr. Becky Tallmadge of the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cornell, Dr. Antczak is trying to determine how the virus interacts with one type of MHC molecules to gain entry to horse cells. Using advanced techniques in cell and molecular biology, Dr. Antczak’s team has been able to identify which MHC molecules enable the virus to enter the cell and to discern how efficient they are compared with other receptors that allow the virus to enter. These distinctions, which are genetically based, can help determine why some animals, and some humans, are more susceptible to herpesvirus infection than others, and can point the way to preventive therapies to keep herpesvirus from grasping these receptors, entering the cell, and making an animal or human sick. 

Papillomaviruses present another example of viral pathogens where genetic susceptibility plays a role in infection. Bovine papillomavirus is a pathogen of cattle that has crossed over to horses where it can cause sarcoid tumors, wart-like lesions that are the most common type of cancer in the horse. With Dr. Samantha Brooks of the University of Florida, Dr. Antczak used whole genome scanning to identify two regions in the horse genome that are associated with sarcoid tumors. One of these regions is within the MHC. Dr. Antczak is currently working to identify the locations of the genes involved in sarcoid susceptibility and elucidating the mechanisms that lead to the formation of tumors, discoveries that could lead to therapies for sarcoid tumors and other diseases caused by papillomaviruses.

Horses are still beasts of burden in most parts of the world, but on the other side of the planet, in Qatar, camels also step in to carry people and heavy loads. The Dromedary camel, together with the Arabian horse and the Arabian oryx, represent three iconic mammals of the Arabian Peninsula, and with support from the Qatar National Research Foundation, Dr. Antczak’s lab is sequencing and exploring the genomes of these three species. By gauging the diversity of these genomes within species and identifying commonalities between different species, Dr. Antczak hopes to identify genomic regions that contain novel pathways for survival in an arid environment and gain insights into how these species might survive in a future in which climate change further diminishes water resources on the Arabian Peninsula.


Links and abstracts for all of Dr. Antczak’s publications can be found at NCBI.

1.  Cooper, K.L., K.E. Sears, A. Uygur, J. Maier, K.S. Baczkowski, M. Brosnahan, D. Antczak, J.A. Skidmore, and C.J. Tabin. (2014) Patterning and post-patterning modes of evolutionary digit loss in mammals. Nature 511:41-45. Abstract.

2.  Kydd, J. H., Case, R., Minke, J., Audonnet, J. C., Wagner, B, and Antczak, D. F. (2014) The immediate early protein of equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) as a target for cytotoxic T lymphocytes in the Thoroughbred horse. Journal of General Virology 95:1783-1789. Abstract.

3.  Azab, W., Harman, R., Miller, D., Tallmadge, R., Frampton, A. R., Antczak, D. F., and Osterrieder, N. (2014) Equine herpesvirus type 4 (EHV-4) uses a restricted set of equine major histocompatibility complex class I proteins as entry receptors. Journal of General Virology 95:1554-1563. Abstract.

4.  Orlando, L., A. Ginolhac, G. Zhang, D. Froese, A. Albrechtsen, M. Stiller, M. Schubert, E. Cappellini, B. Petersen, I. Moltke, P.L. Johnson, M. Fumagalli, J.T. Vilstrup, M. Raghavan, T. Korneliussen, A.S. Malaspinas, J. Vogt, D. Szklarczyk, C.D. Kelstrup, J. Vinther, A. Dolocan, J. Stenderup, A.M. Velazquez, J. Cahill, M. Rasmussen, X. Wang, J. Min, G.D. Zazula, A. Seguin-Orlando, C. Mortensen, K. Magnussen, J.F. Thompson, J. Weinstock, K. Gregersen, K.H. Roed, V. Eisenmann, C.J. Rubin, D.C. Miller, D.F. Antczak, M.F. Bertelsen, S. Brunak, K.A. Al-Rasheid, O. Ryder, L. Andersson, J. Mundy, A. Krogh, M.T. Gilbert, K. Kjaer, T. Sicheritz-Ponten, L.J. Jensen, J.V. Olsen, M. Hofreiter, R. Nielsen, B. Shapiro, J. Wang, and E. Willerslev. (2013). Recalibrating Equus evolution using the genome sequence of an early Middle Pleistocene horse. Nature 499:74-78. Abstract.

5.  Wang X, Miller DC, Harman R, Antczak DF, Clark AG. (2013) Paternally expressed genes predominate in the placenta. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(26):10705-10. Abstract.

6.  Antczak, D.F., de Mestre, A. M., Wilsher, S., Allen, W. R. (2013) The Equine Endometrial Cup Reaction: A Fetomaternal Signal of Significance. Annual Reviews of Animal Biosciences, 1:419-442.

7.  Wang X, Miller DC, Clark AG, Antczak DF. (2012) Random X inactivation in the mule and horse placenta. Genome Research 22(10):1855-63. Abstract.

8.  Antczak, D. F. (2012) T-cell Tolerance to the Developing Equine Conceptus. Reproduction in Domestic Animals 47 Suppl. 4:376-383. Abstract.

9.  Brosnahan MM, Miller DC, Adams M, Antczak DF. (2012) IL-22 is expressed by the invasive trophoblast of the equine (Equus caballus) chorionic girdle. Journal of Immunology, 188(9):4181-7.  Abstract.

10.  de Mestre AM, Hanlon D, Adams AP, Runcan E, Leadbeater JC, Erb HN, Costa CC, Miller D, Allen WR, Antczak DF. (2011) Functions of ectopically transplanted invasive horse trophoblast. Reproduction, 141(6):849-56. Abstract.

11.  Noronha, L. E.  and Antczak, D. F. (2010) Maternal Immune Responses to Trophoblast: The Contribution of the Horse to Pregnancy Immunology. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology 64:231-244. Abstract.

12.  de Mestre, A.M., Noronha, L., Wagner, B. and Antczak, D.F. (2010) Split immunological tolerance to trophoblast. International Journal of Developmental Biology, 54:445-455. Abstract.

13.  Tallmadge, R.L., Campbell, J.A., Miller, D.C., and Antczak, D.F. (2010) Analysis of MHC class I genes across horse MHC haplotypes. Immunogenetics 62:159-172. Abstract.

14.  de Mestre, A.M., Miller, D., Roberson, M.S., Liford, J., Chizmar, L.C., McLaughlin, K.E. and Antczak, D.F. (2009) Glial cells missing homologue1 is induced in differentiating equine chorionic girdle trophoblast cells. Biology of Reproduction, 80:227-234. Abstract.

15.  Wade, C.M., Giulotto, E., Sigurdsson, S., Zoli, M., Gnerre, S., Imsland, F., Lear, T.L., Adelson, D.L., Bailey, E., Bellone, R.R., Blöcker, H., Distl, O., Edgar, R.C., Garber, M., Leeb, T., Mauceli, E., MacLeod, J.N., Penedo, M.C.T., Raison, J.M., Sharpe, T., Vogel, J., Andersson, L., Antczak, D.F., Biagi, T., Binns, M.M., Chowdhary, B.P., Coleman, S.J., Della Valle, G., Fryc, S., Guérin, G., Hasegawa, T., Hill, E.W., Jurka, J., Kiialainen, A., Lindgren, G., Liu, J., Magnani, E., Mickelson, J.R., Murray, J., Nergadze, S.G., Onofrio, R., Pedroni, S., Piras, M.F., Raudsepp, T., Rocchi, M., Røed, K.H., Ryder, O.A., Searle, S., Skow, L., Swinburne, J.E., Syvänen, A.C., Tozaki, T., Valberg, S.J., Vaudin, M., White, J.R., Zody, M.C., Broad Institute Genome Sequencing Platform, Broad Institute Whole Genome Assembly Team, Lander, E.S., and Lindblad-Toh, K. (2009) Genome sequence, comparative analysis and population genetics of the domestic horse (Equus caballus). Science 326:865-867. Abstract.