Naturally-induced endocrine disruption by the parasite Ligula intestinalis (Cestoda) in roach (Rutilus rutilus).
Fish represent the most frequently used vertebrate class for the investigation of endocrine disruption (ED) in wildlife. However, field studies are complicated by exposure scenarios involving a variety of anthropogenic and natural influences interfering with the endocrine system. One natural aspect rarely considered in ecotoxicological studies is how parasites modulate host physiology. Therefore, investigations were carried out to characterise the impacts of the parasitic tapeworm Ligula intestinalis on plasma sex steroid levels and expression of key genes associated with the reproduction in roach (Rutilus rutilus), a sentinel species for wildlife ED research. Parasitisation by L. intestinalis suppressed gonadal development in both genders of roach and analysis of plasma sex steroids revealed substantially lower levels of 17beta-oestradiol (E2) and 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) in infected females as well as E2, 11-KT, and testosterone in infected males. Consistently, in both, infected females and males, expression of the oestrogen dependent genes such as vitellogenin and brain-type aromatase in liver and brain was reduced. Furthermore, parasitisation differentially modulated mRNA expression of the oestrogen and androgen receptors in brain and liver. Most prominently, liver expression of oestrogen receptor 1 was reduced in infected females but not in males, whereas expression of oestrogen receptor 2a was up-regulated in both genders. Further, insulin-like growth factor 1 mRNA in the liver was increased in infected females but not in males. Despite severe impacts on plasma sex steroids and pituitary gonadotropin expression, brain mRNA levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) precursors encoding GnRH2 and GnRH3 were not affected by L. intestinalis-infection. In summary, the present results provide basic knowledge of the endocrine system in L. intestinalis-infected roach and clearly demonstrate that parasites can cause ED in fish.
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