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Fish Shellfish Immunol. 2003 Aug;15(2):129-44.

Apoptosis of sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) neutrophils and macrophages induced by experimental infection with Photobacterium damselae subsp. piscicida.

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Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, Rua do Campo Alegre 823, 4150-180, Porto, Portugal.


The infection of sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) by intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection of the agent of fish pasteurellosis Photobacterium damselae subsp. piscicida resulted in the apoptosis of peritoneal neutrophils and macrophages. All the eight virulent and none of the two non-virulent strains tested exhibited apoptogenic activity. A secreted bacterial protein(s) is a likely candidate as the factor(s) responsible for this activity, since no apoptosis was induced by i.p. injected UV-killed virulent strains and the virulent culture supernatants exhibited a thermo-labile apoptogenic activity identical to that of live bacteria. The apoptotic process was characterized by the occurrence of DNA fragmentation detected by terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) staining and DNA electrophoresis, and of typical ultrastructural alterations namely cell shrinkage, chromatin condensation, nuclear fragmentation and production of blebs with shedding of apoptotic bodies. In the apoptotic process induced by lethal doses of virulent bacteria or culture supernatants both peritoneal macrophages and neutrophils were extensively affected, the majority of these cells being apoptotic and reaching values around 10(7)per peritoneal cavity for each cell type at 24h post-injection. Moreover, the number of non-apoptotic macrophages was always below the initial number in the resting peritoneal cavity. Since macrophages are key cells in the elimination of both bacteria and apoptotic moribund cells and apoptotic bodies, the induction by Ph. damselae subsp. piscicida of simultaneous macrophage and neutrophil apoptosis results, on the one hand, in the destruction of the two phagocytic cell types involved in the restriction of multiplication of the bacteria and, on the other hand, in the uncontrolled progression of the apoptotic process towards secondary necrosis and eventual lysis of high numbers of moribund neutrophils and of neutrophilic apoptotic bodies, with the consequent extensive release of their highly cytotoxic components. Abundant apoptotic cells were also seen in sections of head-kidney from fish dying from experimental pasteurellosis. In contrast, no apoptosis was seen in vitro after the treatment with virulent culture supernatants of sea bass head-kidney macrophage cultures or after the treatment ex vivo of peritoneal exudate leukocytes with virulent bacteria or culture supernatants. The apoptotic process described here appears as a novel and very powerful microbial pathogenic strategy.

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