Disturbance of the intestinal mucosal immune system of farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), in response to long-term hypoxic conditions

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The gastrointestinal (GI) tract has many important biological functions. One is to serve as a barrier between the fish and the external environment. A decreased physical barrier function of the intestine may lead to increased inflow of luminal content and subsequent activation of the intestinal mucosal immune system. This activation is governed by the ability of various compounds to induce cytokine release and immune cell activity, leading to an immune response. In mammals, the impact of stress on the intestinal barrier is well documented and results in increased intestinal permeability and thus increased stimulation of the mucosal immune system. Fish reared in sea cages may at times be exposed to unfavourable environmental conditions leading to chronic stress and disturbed intestinal integrity. This change in permeability may increase the exposure of the mucosal immune system to activating compounds. In the present study, the effect of a prolonged stress on the intestinal mucosal immune system of fish is therefore addressed. Atlantic salmon were exposed to low levels (50%) of dissolved oxygen (DO) for 6–7 weeks in consecutive experiments performed at 8 and 16 °C. Immune parameters were assessed in terms of mRNA expression of the key cytokines, interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-8, IL-10, interferon-γ (IFNγ) and transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) as well as the immune regulatory inhibitor of nuclear factor κB (IκB). In the experiment at 8 °C also mucosal neutrophil infiltration was monitored. Subjecting the fish to low DO levels at 8 °C resulted in an increased mucosal neutrophil infiltration together with a down-regulation of IκB. At the higher temperature, 16 °C, low DO levels created decreased expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β in both intestinal regions as well as an increased expression of IL-10 in the proximal intestine. These results suggest that husbandry conditions in sea cages with DO levels as low as 50% clearly affects the intestinal mucosal immune system and results in a chronic inflammation. Moreover, the effects of low DO levels on the immune factors examined were more pronounced in the 16 °C experiment suggesting additive effects of high temperatures.

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