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Stressed Out Salmon: Side Effect of Louse Medication

NORWAY - Studies carried out by the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) show that the active component in one of the most common anti-salmon louse drugs causes temporary moderate stress in the treated salmon.

One of the most common ways of treating farmed salmon against salmon louse (a crustacean) is to give the fish medicated feed containing active components.

Emamectin benzoate is the most used active component in medicated feed of this kind, being commonly used in Norway, Scotland and Chile. Since emamectin benzoate affects salmon louse, possible toxic effects on wild living crustaceans has been in focus nationally and internationally.

It is also of interest to examine whether the drug used for treatment may have adverse effects on the fish during medication. Researchers at NIFES have studied the stress response in salmon that have been given a standard treatment with emamectin benzoate.

- The study showed a temporary moderate oxidative stress response, and a delayed inflammatory reaction in salmon liver, says researcher Pål A. Olsvik at NIFES.

Examination of liver genes

Several of the basic metabolic processes in salmon take place in the liver, and the effect of treatment with an anti-louse drug can be measured by studying the expression of genes in liver cells. Changes in the expression of 16 000 liver genes were mapped from the first day of treatment until day 35.

Only a small number of liver genes were up-regulated or down-regulated as a result of the treatment. The analysis of the expression of genes in the liver cells showed a temporary oxidative stress response after 7 days and a moderate inflammatory reaction after 14 days, says Olsvik.


What is oxidative stress?

Free radicals are reactive substances which are created naturally in the metabolism of cells. They are neutralised by antioxidants. If more free radicals are created than can be neutralised by the body, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress may affect many of the normal processes in a cell. A stress response is characterised by biochemical and physiological changes in the cell, such as the production of different proteins, due to an external influence.

What is meant by gene expression?

All cells in the body have a cell nucleus which contains DNA. The DNA contains genetic sequences which define the structure of different proteins with different functions. For a protein to be created, the DNA must undergo a process whereby the genetic sequences are transcribed to mRNA, which is transported out of the cell nucleus.

The term “genetic expression” means the amount of mRNA in a cell or a tissue at a given time. When mRNA is transported from the cell nucleus the transcription unit is translated to a protein. When we say that a gene is up-regulated, more of a specific mRNA that codes for a protein is produced. More of this protein will be produced, such as an intake protein, a transport protein or an enzyme. This, in turn, can affect processes in the cell and otherwise in the body.