How parasitism and pollution affect the physiological homeostasis of aquatic hosts.
Parasitism poses a serious threat to hosts under certain circumstances, while the well-being of organisms is also negatively affected by environmental pollution. Little information is available on the simultaneous effects of parasites and pollutants on the physiological homeostasis of organisms. The present paper demonstrates that parasites: (i) may influence the metabolism of pollutants in infected hosts, (ii) interact with pollution in synergistic or antagonistic ways, and (iii) may induce physiological reactions in hosts which were thought to be pollutant-induced. Experimental studies on the uptake and accumulation of metals by fish reveal that fish infected with acanthocephalans have lower metal levels than uninfected hosts; e.g. Pomphorhynchus laevis reduces lead levels in fish bile, thereby diminishing or impeding the hepatic intestinal cycling of lead, which may reduce the quantity of metals available for fish. Alterations in pollutant uptake and accumulation in different intermediate and final hosts due to parasites are thus very important in the field of ecotoxicology. In addition to such alterations, there is a close interaction between the effects of pollutants and parasites which seems to be mediated at least partly by the endocrine system, which itself is closely related to the immune system in fish. Laboratory studies on eels experimentally infected with the swimbladder nematode Anguillicola crassus reveal that toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls produce immunosuppressive effects which facilitate parasite infection. Similarly, an increase in serum cortisol concentration in eels due to chemical exposure and infection is correlated with decreasing levels of anti-A. crassus antibodies. Furthermore, parasites are able to elicit physiological changes which are attributed to chemicals with endocrine disrupting activity, e.g. the cestode Ligula intestinalis is known to suppress gonad development in roach. The most thoroughly documented examples of endocrine disruption in wild fish are in roach, and it is conceivable that this disruption is not only due to chemical activity but also to parasites such as L. intestinalis or species of the phylum Microspora.
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