Sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) and infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) are two of the most important pathogens in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) farming and typically cause substantial economic losses to the industry. However, the immune interactions between hosts and these pathogens are still unclear, especially in the scenario of co-infection. In this study, we artificially infected Atlantic salmon with sea lice and ISAv, and investigated the gene expression patterns of Atlantic salmon head kidneys in response to both lice only and co-infection with lice and ISAv by transcriptomics analysis. The challenge experiment indicated that co-infection resulted in a cumulative mortality rate of 47.8 %, while no mortality was observed in the lice alone infection. We identified 240 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) under the lice alone infection, of which 185 were downregulated and 55 were upregulated, while a total of 994 DEGs were identified in the co-infection, of which 206 were down-regulated and 788 were significantly up-regulated. The pathway enrichment analysis revealed that single-infection significantly suppressed the innate immune system (e.g., the complement system), whereas co-infection induced a strong immune response, leading to the activation of immune-related signaling pathways such as Toll-like receptors and NOD-like receptors pathways, as well as significant upregulation of genes related to the activation of interferon and MH class I protein complex. Our results provide the first global transcriptomic study of gene expression in the Atlantic salmon head kidney in response to co-infection with sea lice and ISAv, and provided the baseline knowledge for understanding the immune responses during co-infection.
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