This study set out to determine how an enteric parasite, the thorny headed worm Acanthocephalus lucii, affected the expression of antimicrobial peptides (piscidins) in its host population, the European perch (Perca fluviatilis) collected from Lake Piediluco in Central Italy. A total of 87 perch were examined; 44 (50.5%) were infected with A. lucii (1–18 worms fish−1). Pathological changes and immune response were assessed using histological, ultrastructural and immunohistochemical techniques. The acanthocephalans only penetrated the surficial zone of the intestinal wall and induced only slight inflammation. The main damage was destruction of the mucosal epithelium covering the villi adjacent to the parasite's attachment site, and included necrosis and degeneration. Infected intestine had numerous mast cells (MCs), often in close proximity to, and within, the capillaries, and were associated with fibroblasts of the submucosal layer. Mast cells were irregular in shape with a cytoplasm filled by numerous electron-dense, membrane-bound granules. Immunostaining of intestine with antibodies against the antimicrobial peptides piscidin 3 and piscidin 4 showed subpopulations of MCs that were positive. Piscidin-positive MCs were mainly observed among the epithelial cells of the intestine, but also within the submucosa. In both uninfected and parasite-infected perch, the number of MCs positive for piscidin 4 was higher than those immunoreactive with piscidin 3 (p < 0.05). For both piscidins, there was no significant difference in the number of positive MCs between parasite-infected and uninfected intestine (p > 0.05). However, uninfected fish showed higher immunostaining intensity for piscidin 3 than infected conspecifics (p < 0.05).[...]
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