The intestinal epithelium of salmonids : transepithelial transport, barrier function and bacterial interactions

Abstract: The salmonid intestinal epithelium is important for growth and health of the fish. The epithelium is exposed to a multitude of internal and external factors that can influence its function. During the parr-smolt transformation and subsequent seawater transfer, the epithelium adapts for an osmoregulatory role and the fish starts drinking seawater (SW). Endocrine signals increases the intestinal water uptake partly through an up-regulation of Na+,K+-ATPase activity. It is shown that the epithelial paracellular permeability decrease concurrent with the increase in water transport, suggesting that water flow is directed from a paracellular to a more transcellular route. The rational for this could be the increase in epithelial exposure to the environment at SW entrance. Tightening the paracellular route could be a mechanism to reduce paracellular transfer of harmful substances and pathogens. A major salmonid pathogen is the bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida, which cause losses in both aquaculture and in wild populations. It is not known, however, by which route the A. salmonicida enters the fish. A. salmonicida has been positively demonstrated in the intestinal lumen but it has been controversial whether or not the bacteria cross the epithelial barriers. It is demonstrated that A. salmonicida can translocate across the intestinal barrier, indicating the intestine as a functional route for bacterial infection in salmonids. It is concluded that A. salmonicida employs many virulence mechanisms, such as exotoxins, endotoxin and cell bound factors, to disrupts epithelial morphology and function and promote translocation. During the later phases of parr-smolt transformation the epithelial barrier integrity decreased and translocation of pathogens increased. The increased disease susceptibility during this life stage could thus partly be caused by a decreased barrier function. Vegetable lipids are used as replacement for fish oil in salmonid aquaculture, but there are concerns about how the new diets affect the intestinal epithelium. The epithelial functions presently investigated indicate a slight increase in permeability, supporting earlier histological reports of epithelial disruptions but not to the same extent. Nutrient uptake and barrier function during the parr-smolt transformation was significantly improved by a vegetable lipid-containing diet, indicating that this inclusion may be beneficial in the freshwater (FW) stage. The fatty acid profile of the natural diet for salmonids in FW is more similar to a blend of vegetable oils than to the profile of marine feed ingredients, routinely used in salmonid aquaculture. This may be the rationale for the positive effects. Salmon fed sunflower oil, however, showed long term elevation of plasma cortisol levels indicating a chronic stress. As chronic stress is known to depress immune function, specific vegetable lipids potentially stressful to the fish may also affect their health and welfare. Thus, while vegetable lipids at certain life stages are feasible substitutes for fish oil, possible long term stress effects by vegetable oils should be considered. In conclusion, the salmonid intestinal epithelium is a sensitive and dynamic tissue which is affected by external factors, such as pathogen bacteria, environment and diet, but which also can be endogenously regulated to compensate for this disturbance.

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