It is known that iron transporter proteins and their regulation can modulate the fish's immune system, suggesting these proteins as a potential candidate for fish vaccines. Previous studies have evidenced the effects of Atlantic salmon immunized with the chimeric iron-related protein named IPath® against bacterial and ectoparasitic infections. The present study aimed to explore the transcriptome modulation and the morphology of the sea louse Caligus rogercresseyi in response to Atlantic salmon injected with IPath®. Herein, Atlantic salmon were injected with IPath® and challenged to sea lice in controlled laboratory conditions. Then, female adults were collected after 25 days post-infection for molecular and morphological evaluation. Transcriptome analysis conducted in lice collected from immunized fish revealed high modulation of transcripts compared with the control groups. Notably, the low number of up/downregulated transcripts was mainly found in lice exposed to the IPath® fish group. Among the top-25 differentially expressed genes, Vitellogenin, Cytochrome oxidases, and proteases genes were strongly downregulated, suggesting that IPath® can alter lipid transport, hydrogen ion transmembrane transport, and proteolysis. The morphological analysis in lice collected from IPath® fish revealed abnormal embryogenesis and inflammatory processes of the genital segment. Furthermore, head kidney, spleen, and skin were also analyzed in immunized fish to evaluate the transcription expression of immune and iron homeostasis-related genes. The results showed downregulation of TLR22, MCHII, IL-1β, ALAs, HO, BLVr, GSHPx, and Ferritin genes in head kidney and skin tissues; meanwhile, those genes did not show significant differences in spleen tissue. Overall, our findings suggest that IPath® can be used to enhance the fish immune response, showing a promissory commercial application against lice infections.
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