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Title: The potential role of ABC transporters as factors influencing drug susceptibility in the salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis (Kroyer, 1837)
Author: Heumann, Jan H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5347 236X
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2014
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Efficient control of sea lice is a major challenge for the sustainable production of farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar (Linnaeus, 1758)). These marine ectoparasites feed on mucus, skin and blood of their hosts, thereby reducing the salmon’s growth rate and overall health. In the northern hemisphere, the most prevalent species is Lepeophtheirus salmonis (Krøyer, 1837). In 2006, global costs of sea lice infections are estimated to have exceeded €300 million, with the majority spent on a limited number of chemical delousing agents. Emamectin benzoate (EMB; SLICE®), an avermectin, has been widely used since its introduction in 2000, due to its convenient administration as an in-feed medication and its high efficacy against all parasitic stages of L. salmonis. However, over-reliance on a single or limited range of medicines favours the emergence of drug resistance and, as a result, the efficacy of this compound in treating L. salmonis has decreased in recent years, as reported from e.g. Chile, Norway, Scotland and Canada. Declining efficacy underlines the need for an improved understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying EMB drug resistance in L. salmonis. Elucidation of these mechanisms would allow for improved monitoring tools, earlier detection of developing resistance, extended usability of current delousing agents and development of new parasiticides. The work described in this thesis sets out to examine the molecular mechanisms underlying EMB resistance in L. salmonis. In earlier studies, research in nematodes and arthropods has linked drug efflux transporters belonging to the family of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters to ivermectin (IVM) resistance, a parasiticide with high chemical similarity to EMB. ABC transporters such as permeability glycoprotein (P-gp), transport a wide range of substrates, including drugs, and have been suggested to provide a potential molecular mechanism through which EMB resistance might be mediated in sea lice. As an example of such mechanisms, increased expression of P-gp is one of the causative factors for drug resistance in human cancer cells and avermectin resistance in nematode parasites such as Caenorhabditis elegans or Haemonchus contortus. Initial research involved screening for novel salmon lice P-gps that might contribute to EMB resistance. A novel P-gp, SL-PGY1, was discovered using a combined bioinformatic and molecular biological approach. The expression was compared in two well-characterised L. salmonis strains differing in their susceptibility to EMB (S = susceptible, R = resistant). Prior to EMB exposure, mRNA levels did not differ from each other, while, after 24 h exposure, a 2.9-fold increase in SL-PGY1 mRNA expression was observed in the R strain. SL-PGY1 appears not to be a major factor contributing to reduced EMB susceptibility, although it could play a role, as expression levels increased upon exposure to EMB. A further four additional drug transporters (ABC C subfamily) were also discovered showing high homology to multidrug-resistance proteins (MRP). The relative expression levels of each MRP was compared in the strains S and R, before and after exposure to EMB. No significant changes were found in their expression patterns. If ABC drug transporters mediate the efflux of EMB and thereby reduce the intracellular concentrations of the drug in exposed animals, the inhibition of those ABC drug transporters was expected to lead to higher intracellular levels of EMB. This could result in an enhanced toxic effect when EMB is co-administered with an inhibitor. Two known inhibitors of human P-gps and MRPs, cyclosporin A (CSA) and verapamil (VER), were co-administered with EMB. CSA increased the toxic effect of EMB in both tested strains, implying that the targets of CSA are expressed at comparable levels and that they may be part of the mechanism conferring EMB resistance. VER increased the toxic effect of EMB in the R strain, but had no significant effects on the S strain. This implies that the expression of factors inhibited by VER differs between the two L. salmonis strains. It is hypothesised that a number of ABC transporters with distinct, yet overlapping patterns of inhibitor specificity are affected by those inhibitors. The search for drug-resistance conferring genes was complemented with a systematic, genome-wide survey of ABC transporters in L. salmonis to find additional members of this important gene family. Next-generation high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) was employed to assemble a reference transcriptome from pooled total RNA of salmon lice at different development stages. The transcriptome was assembled against the L. salmonis genome and annotated. Thirty-nine putative ABC transporters were found. Of further interest were transcripts of the subfamily B, C and G, as they contain drug-transporting ABC proteins. For the ABC B subfamily, one full (SL-PGY1) and three half transporter transcripts were found. Only full transporters are known to transport drugs and SL-PGY1 is apparently not a major factor contributing to EMB resistance. Fourteen ABCC sequences were found – 11 MRPs and 3 homologues to sulfonylurea receptors. Of interest are MRPs, as they contribute to drug detoxification in humans and invertebrates. Four MRPs had been identified previously and their expression ratios did not differ between S and R strain parasites. Seven sequences belonging to ABCG subfamily were found. However, none of the L. salmonis ABCG transcripts identified showed sufficient homology to known drug transporters in other species. With the currently limited understanding of the mechanisms conferring EMB resistance, monitoring the susceptibility of L. salmonis subpopulations is essential. Dose-response bioassays are currently widely used. Tests with pre-adult II or adult parasites requires relatively large numbers of parasites (~150) to conduct this type of bioassay, which may not always be available. Addressing this issue, we tested the feasibility of a single-dose bioassay (requiring fewer test animals than dose-response bioassays) to discriminate between L. salmonis strains with differing EMB susceptibility. This alternative approach uses time-course toxicity analysis, where the toxic effect of EMB is monitored over time. After clearly defining the effect criteria, we found that it is possible to discriminate between those L. salmonis strains. However, while requiring fewer test animals, time course toxicity analysis is more labour-intensive, but the alternative design can be suitable under certain circumstances. The work reported here has provided new knowledge concerning the mechanisms of EMB resistance in sea lice. Several novel putative drug transporters have been identified, an important first step toward unravelling the complex interactions of genes involved in EMB resistance in this commercially important parasite.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: MSD Animal Health
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: sea lice ; salmon louse ; Lepeophtheirus salmonis ; L salmonis ; Atlantic salmon ; Salmo salar ; emamectin benzoate ; avermectin ; drug resistance ; drug susceptibility ; ATP-binding cassette transporter ; ABC transporter ; bioassay ; parasite ; ectoparasite ; copepod ; Drug resistance in microorganisms ; Fishes Diseases