BackgroundPorcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is a threat to pig production worldwide. Our objective was to understand mechanisms of persistence of PRRS virus (PRRSV) in tonsil. Transcriptome data from tonsil samples collected at 42 days post infection (dpi) were generated by RNA-seq and NanoString on 51 pigs that were selected to contrast the two PRRSV isolates used, NVSL and KS06, high and low tonsil viral level at 42 dpi, and the favorable and unfavorable genotypes at a genetic marker (WUR) for the putative PRRSV resistance gene GBP5.ResultsThe number of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) differed markedly between models with and without accounting for cell-type enrichments (CE) in the samples that were predicted from the RNA-seq data. This indicates that differences in cell composition in tissues that consist of multiple cell types, such as tonsil, can have a large impact on observed differences in gene expression. Based on both the NanoString and the RNA-seq data, KS06-infected pigs showed greater activation, or less inhibition, of immune response in tonsils at 42 dpi than NVSL-infected pigs, with and without accounting for CE. This suggests that the NVSL virus may be better than the KS06 virus at evading host immune response and persists in tonsils by weakening, or preventing, host immune responses. Pigs with high viral levels showed larger CE of immune cells than low viral level pigs, potentially to trigger stronger immune responses. Presence of high tonsil virus was associated with a stronger immune response, especially innate immune response through interferon signaling, but these differences were not significant when accounting for CE. Genotype at WUR was associated with different effects on immune response in tonsils of pigs during the persistence stage, depending on viral isolate and tonsil viral level.ConclusionsResults of this study provide insights into the effects of PRRSV isolate, tonsil viral level, and WUR genotype on host immune response and into potential mechanisms of PRRSV persistence in tonsils that could be targeted to improve strategies to reduce viral rebreaks. Finally, to understand transcriptome responses in tissues that consist of multiple cell types, it is important to consider differences in cell composition.