BACKGROUNDOutcomes of infections with the salmon louse Lepeophtheirus salmonis vary considerably among its natural hosts (Salmo, Oncorhynchus spp.). Host-parasite interactions range from weak to strong host responses accompanied by high to low parasite abundances, respectively. Parasite behavioral studies indicate that the louse prefers the host Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), which is characterized by a weak immune response, and that this results in enhanced parasite reproduction and growth rates. Furthermore, parasite-derived immunosuppressive molecules (e.g., proteases) have been detected at higher amounts in response to the mucus of Atlantic Salmon relative to Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). However, the host-specific responses of the salmon louse have not been well characterized in either of the genetically distinct sub-species that occur in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
RESULTSWe assessed and compared the transcriptomic feeding response of the Pacific salmon louse (L. salmonis oncorhynchi,) while parasitizing the highly susceptible Atlantic Salmon and Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) or the more resistant Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) using a 38 K oligonucleotide microarray. The response of the louse was enhanced both in the number of overexpressed genes and in the magnitude of expression while feeding on the non-native Atlantic Salmon, compared to either Coho or Sockeye Salmon. For example, putative virulence factors (e.g., cathepsin L, trypsin, carboxypeptidase B), metabolic enzymes (e.g., cytochrome B, cytochrome C), protein synthesis enzymes (e.g., ribosomal protein P2, 60S ribosomal protein L7), and reproduction-related genes (e.g., estrogen sulfotransferase) were overexpressed in Atlantic-fed lice, indicating heightened parasite fitness with this host species. In contrast, responses in Coho- or Sockeye-fed lice were more similar to those of parasites deprived of a host. To test for host acclimation by the parasite, we performed a reciprocal host transfer experiment and determined that the exaggerated response to Atlantic Salmon was independent of the initial host species, confirming our conclusion that the Pacific salmon louse exhibits an enhanced response to Atlantic Salmon.
CONCLUSIONSThis study characterized global transcriptomic responses of Pacific salmon lice during infection of susceptible and resistant hosts. Similar parasite responses during infection of Coho or Sockeye Salmon, despite differences in natural immunity to infection between these host species, indicate that host susceptibility status alone does not drive the parasite response. We identified an enhanced louse response after feeding on Atlantic Salmon, characterized by up-regulation of virulence factors, energy metabolism and reproductive-associated transcripts. In contrast, the responses of lice infecting Coho or Sockeye Salmon were weaker, with reduced expression of virulence factors. These observations indicate that the response of the louse is independent of host susceptibility and suggest that co-evolutionary host-parasite relationships may influence contemporary host-parasite interactions. This research improves our understanding of the susceptibility of Atlantic Salmon and may assist in the development of novel control measures against the salmon louse.
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