Parasites often impair the reproduction of their hosts, one well known case being the cestode Schistocephalus solidus which is a common parasite in three-spined sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus. One of the possible ways that this could be exerted is by suppression on the brain-pituitary-gonadal (BPG) axis. In this study, mRNA levels of FSH-β and LH-β and of GnRH2 (cGnRH II) and GnRH3 (sGnRH) were measured via Q-PCR in infected and uninfected fish sampled from the field a few weeks before the onset of breeding. The pituitary mRNA levels of both FSH-β and LH-β were higher in infected males than in uninfected males. Also in females, FSH-β mRNA levels were higher in infected individuals than in others, whereas there was no significant difference found in LH-β expression. Brain mRNA levels of GnRH3 were higher in infected fish than in uninfected fish in both sexes, but no difference was found in GnRH2 mRNA levels. Thus, infection by S. solidus was able to alter the expressions not only of gonadotropins (GtHs), but also of GnRH which has not been observed previously. However, the effects are opposite to what should be expected if the parasite suppressed reproduction via actions on the brain-pituitary level. The gonads are perhaps more likely to be impaired by the parasites in other ways, and changed feedbacks on the BPG axis could then lead to the increases in GtHs and GnRH.
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