Host responses during experimental infection with Fasciola gigantica or Fasciola hepatica in Merino sheep. I. Comparative immunological and plasma biochemical changes during early infection
This study reports the early biochemical changes in plasma, comparative host-immune responses and parasite recovery data in Merino sheep during the first 10 weeks of infection with Fasciola gigantica and Fasciola hepatica. One group of sheep were uninfected, four groups of sheep received incremental challenge doses of F. gigantica metacercariae (50, 125, 225 and 400, respectively) and the sixth group was challenged with 250 F. hepatica metacercariae. At 10 weeks post infection (wpi), sheep challenged with F. hepatica showed the greatest fluke recovery (mean 119, range 84-166); a significantly higher biomass of parasites recovered (2.5-fold greater than the highest dose of F. gigantica); and a greater mean % parasite recovery (39.3%, range 27-55%) than any group challenged with F. gigantica. Within the groups dosed with F. gigantica a strong dose-dependent response was observed in both fluke recovery and fluke biomass with increasing dose of metacercariae. The mean % parasite recovery of F. gigantica infected groups 1-5 were 26, 23, 26 and 25%, respectively, suggesting a uniform viability of parasite establishment independent of infection dose. At 6 wpi, elevated levels of plasma GLDH were observed in the F. gigantica infected groups compared to the uninfected sheep (p<0.005) whereas the F. hepatica challenged group had four-fold higher levels of GLDH compared to the F. gigantica infected group (p<0.001). Elevated levels of GGT as an indicator of epithelial damage in the bile duct was only seen in the group challenged with F. hepatica at 10 wpi when it rose from below 100 IU/l to approximately 250 IU/l (p<0.0001) whereas no detectable increase in GGT was observed in any of the groups challenged with F. gigantica. The white blood cell response to F. hepatica infection was biphasic with the initial peak at 4 wpi and a second peak at 9 wpi, corresponding to the period of migration of juvenile fluke in the liver and the time when adult flukes are migrating into the bile duct, respectively. This biphasic response was also evident in the changes in the eosinophil counts and serum haemoglobin levels. There was a trend toward higher parasite-specific IgG2 titres in sheep infected with lower worm burdens, suggesting that higher F. gigantica or F. hepatica burdens suppress IgG2 responses. The findings of this study suggest that, in early infection in a permissive host, F. hepatica appears to be more pathogenic than F. gigantica because of its rapid increase in size and the speed of its progression through the migratory phases of its life cycle.