There is tremendous variation in life-history strategies among anadromous salmonids. Species that enter the ocean environment at small sizes (< 20 g) are likely under more physiological pressure from pathogens; however, little data is available on responses at these early stages. With this in mind, we performed salmon louse challenges with Coho salmon either immediately after seawater entry (SW; ca. 10 g) or after 30 days in SW (ca. 20 g). Irrespective of size or time in SW, parasites were rapidly rejected by the host, with > 90% of all parasites lost by 16 days post-infection (dpi). Rejection was concomitant with host epithelial granulomatous infiltrations that initially targeted the embedded frontal filament (4 dpi) and the entire parasite by 10 dpi. Illumina sequencing, followed by functional enrichment analysis, revealed a concerted defense response in the fin within 1 dpi that included multiple innate and adaptive immunity components. Strikingly, early indications of an allergic-type inflammatory response were associated with chitin sensing pathways orchestrated by early overexpression of the IgE-receptor, fcer1g. Additionally, there was profound overexpression of several classes of c-type lectin receptors, including dectin-2, mincle, and dc-sign at 1 dpi onward. These profiles and upregulation of cellular effector markers were corroborated by histopathological evaluation, revealing the simultaneous presence of mast cell/eosinophilic granular cells, sacciform cells, macrophages/histiocytes, and granulocytes in fin. At 10 dpi and concurrent with parasite expulsion, there was evidence of immunoregulation in addition to tissue remodelling pathways. At 16 dpi, the response was effectively abrogated. Simultaneous profiling of the parasite transcriptome revealed early induction of chitin metabolism and immunomodulation, toxin production and ECM degradation; however, after 7 dpi, these were replaced with overexpression of stress and immune defense genes. These data present the first evidence for Coho salmon demonstrating chitin- and sugar moiety-sensing as key drivers of salmon louse rejection.
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