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After grass carps Ctenopharyngodon idellus were injected with cortisol, with (CBC) and without (C) a cocoa butter carrier, the effects of both slowly and rapidly acting exogenous cortisol on their non‐specific immune functions were investigated. On the one hand, after injection with CBC, the cortisol concentration and lysozyme activity in fish serum were enhanced and were sustained at high levels for a long period (30 days). The killing activity in the serum declined with time, and phagocytosis of head kidney macrophages diminished significantly (P < 0·05 or P < 0·01). The leukocrit values in the high dose group (31·8 mg cortisol fish−1) increased over time, however, with the maximum average being 5·6% at day 30. The spleen mass index in the high dose group was 0·93 × 10−3 after 30 days, notably lower (P < 0·05) than that in the control group. In addition, a decrease in resistance to Aeromonas hydrophila infection in cortisol‐treated fish was shown, with the final cumulative mortalities being 54·5 and 66·7% in the low and high dose groups, respectively. On the other hand, there was a decrease in both serum cortisol concentration and lysozyme activity of the experimental fish within 2 weeks after injection with C, where plasma bactericidal activities in the high dose group (31·8 mg cortisol fish−1) were remarkably lower (P < 0·01) than those in the control group at each sampling, but were increased slightly over time. The results of which were different from those in the CBC trial. Phagocytic activity of head kidney macrophages and spleen mass index decreased significantly (P < 0·05), while there were increases in leukocrit value and cumulative mortality due to A. hydrophila. The results of which were similar to those in the CBC trial. This study indicated that the injection of cortisol depressed the non‐specific immune functions of the grass carp and increased its susceptibility to disease.
State Key Laboratory of Freshwater Ecology and Biotechnology, and Laboratory of Fish Diseases, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan 430072, Hubei Province, P. R. China and