DAO 59:141-150 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/dao059141

Modulation of granulocyte responses in three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus infected with the tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus

J. P. Scharsack1,2, M. Kalbe1,*, R. Derner1, J. Kurtz1, M. Milinski1

1Max Planck Institute of Limnology, Department of Evolutionary Ecology, August-Thienemann-Strasse 2, 24306 Plön, Germany
2Present address: Biology and Immunology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Leukocytes isolated from the head kidney and peripheral blood of 3-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus L. were analysed by means of flow cytometry during infection with the tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus (Müller, 1776). Although parasites increased their body weight continuously throughout the observation period (98 d), proportions of granulocytes increased in blood and head kidney only up to Day 63 post-infection (p.i.). Thereafter, declining proportions of granulocytes were observed in both organs. Thus the relative decrease in granulocyte number was not correlated to a decline in the parasitic load of the fish. To investigate a possible modulatory impact of S. solidus on granulocyte function, head kidney leukocytes were isolated at times before Day 63 p.i. and tested in vitro for their capacity to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS). Head kidney leukocytes from S. solidus-infected fish, analysed immediately after isolation (ex vivo, Day 40 p.i.), exhibited a higher ROS production when stimulated with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), than leukocytes from naïve, sham-treated control fish and fish that had resisted or cleared the infection (exposed but not infected). The latter showed an increased spontaneous ROS production that was not correlated to the numbers of granulocytes present in the head kidney isolates. In infected sticklebacks, spontaneous and PMA-induced ROS production was significantly correlated with numbers of granulocytes present in the head kidney isolates, suggesting that elevated ROS production was due to higher numbers of responding cells rather than an increased capacity of single cells. In vitro, after cultivation for 4 d in the presence of pokeweed mitogen (PWM) or extracts from S. solidus, head kidney leukocytes from control fish showed an increased ROS production and phagocytic activity compared with non-stimulated control cultures. In contrast, head kidney leukocytes from infected fish isolated on Days 48 and 44 p.i., failed to respond to S. solidus antigens in vitro. During S. solidus infection, granulocyte mobilisation resulted in elevated numbers of these cells in head kidneys, but the lack of an in vitro response to S. solidus antigens indicates an in vivo priming of granulocytes by the parasite. These observations may reflect the ability of S. solidus to impair the host¹s immune response once the parasite is developing in the body cavity of G. aculeatus.


KEY WORDS: Gasterosteus aculeatus · Schistocephalus solidus · Granulocytes · Reactive oxygen species · Phagocytosis


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