The effects of dietary urea supplementation and of a 10-week trickle infection regime, simulating chronic exposure to Haemonchus contortus, on the zymogenic population of the abomasa of Hampshire Down lambs was examined. At necropsy a variety of parameters including plasma pepsinogen concentrations, the wet weights of abomasal fundic mucosal pieces and the amounts of pepsinogen contained in them, were assessed. Tissue pepsinogen concentration was measured as the total, acid-stable proteolytic activity present in mucosal homogenates, as well as immunohistochemically. The immunohistochemical findings were quantified using computer-aided image analysis. Elevation of plasma pepsinogen concentrations in infected animals was of borderline significance (P=0·06). The fundic mucosae of infected animals were heavier (P<0·02) than those of control animals, but there was no overall change in the pepsinogen content of tissues. Immunohistochemistry revealed that infected animals had increased numbers of zymogenic cells, due to mucous cell hyperplasia and the adaptation of cells to produce both mucins and pepsinogen. The pepsinogen content of chief cells, the major source of pepsinogen in uninfected animals, was reduced in infected lambs. Image analysis confirmed that at a mid-point of the mucosa of infected animals there was increased pepsinogen-specific immunoreactivity that corresponded with areas of mucosal hyperplasia. Mucous cell hyperplasia might therefore allow the maintenance of pepsinogen secretion in infected animals even if chief cell output is reduced.
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