Variations in the liver and spleen masses of the eel Anguilla anguilla were analysed in relation to the parasite load of Anguillicola crassus at autopsy (current infection by swimbladder lumen worms) and in relation to the severity of damage observed in the swimbladder (a way of assessing the intensity of past infections). None of these measures of parasite pressure were shown to account for variation in the relative liver mass, either when controlling for somatic mass or eel age. In marked contrast, a significant increase in spleen size was revealed in eels harbouring many lumen worms and also in eels with severe damage in the swimbladder. Splenic enlargement was nearly two-fold higher among severely affected eels (harbouring more than seven lumen parasites and showing severe damage in the swimbladder) than among infection-free eels (no lumen parasites and no pathological signs in the swimbladder). Several possible hypotheses are reviewed before arguing for an adaptive host response involving the haematological and immunological functions of the spleen. Indeed, among eels with no pathological signs in the swimbladder, the relative spleen mass was positively associated with the mass of lumen parasites, which suggests a hyper-synthesis of blood cells by the spleen in response to the bloodsucking activity of lumen worms. Nevertheless, among eels with no lumen parasites at autopsy, there was still an increase in spleen size in relation to the severity of the swimbladder damage, which also suggests a hyper-synthesis of splenic immune cells (lymphocytes and macrophages) in reaction to damaged tissues and particularly to larvae in the swimbladder wall.
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