The swimbladder functions as a hydrostatic organ in most bony fishes, including the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. Infection by the nematode Anguillicoloides crassus impairs swimbladder function, significantly compromising the success of the eel spawning migration. Swimbladders from 32 yellow eels taken from Lake Trasimeno (Central Italy) were analysed by histopathology- and electron microscopy-based techniques. Sixteen eels (50%) harboured A. crassus in their swimbladders and intensity of infection ranged from 2 to 17 adult nematodes per organ (6.9 ± 1.6, mean ± S.E.). Gross observations of heavily infected swimbladders showed opacity and histological analysis found a papillose aspect to the mucosa and hyperplasia of the lamina propria, muscularis mucosae and submucosa. Inflammation, haemorrhages, dilation of blood vessels and epithelial erosion were common in infected swimbladders. In the epithelium of parasitized swimbladders, many empty spaces and lack of apical junctional complexes were frequent among the gas gland cells. In heavily infected swimbladders, we observed hyperplasia, cellular swelling and abundant vacuolization in the apical portion of the gas gland cells. Numerous mast cells and several macrophage aggregates were noticed in the mucosal layer of infected swimbladders. We found more nervous and endocrine elements immunoreactive to a panel of six rabbit polyclonal antibodies in infected swimbladders compared to uninfected.
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