Background: In Europe, the tapeworm Dibothriocephalus latus (syn. Diphyllobothrium latum) is a well-known etiological agent of human diphyllobothriosis, which spreads by the consumption of raw fish flesh infected by plerocercoids (tapeworm's larval stage). However, the process of parasite establishment in both intermediate and definitive hosts is poorly understood. This study was targeted mainly on the scolex (anterior part) of the plerocercoid of this species, which facilitates penetration of the parasite in intermediate paratenic fish hosts, and subsequently its attachment to the intestine of the definitive host.
Methods: Plerocercoids were isolated from the musculature of European perch (Perca fluviatilis) caught in Italian alpine lakes. Parasites were examined using confocal microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Immunofluorescence tagging was held on whole mount larvae.
Results: The organisation of the central and peripheral nervous system was captured in D. latus plerocercoids, including the ultrastructure of the nerve cells possessing large dense neurosecretory granules. Two types of nerve fibres run from the body surface toward the nerve plexus located in the parenchyma on each side of bothria. One type of these fibres was found to be serotoninergic and possessed large subtegumental nerve cell bodies. A well-developed gland apparatus, found throughout the plerocercoid parenchyma, produced heterogeneous granules with lucent core packed in a dense layer. Three different types of microtriches occurred on the scolex and body surface of plerocercoids of D. latus: (i) uncinate spinitriches; (ii) coniform spinitriches; and (iii) capilliform filitriches. Non-ciliated sensory receptors were observed between the distal cytoplasm of the tegument and the underlying musculature.
Conclusions: Confocal laser scanning microscopy and electron microscopy (SEM and TEM) showed the detailed microanatomy of the nervous system in the scolex of plerocercoids, and also several differences in the larval stages compared with adult D. latus. These features, i.e. well-developed glandular system and massive hook-shaped uncinate spinitriches, are thus probably required for plerocercoids inhabiting fish hosts and also for their post-infection attachment in the human intestine.
Keywords: Cestoda; Glands; Immunofluorescence; Microtriches; Plerocercoids; Protonephridia; Receptors; Ultrastructure.