Aquaculture is one of the most rapidly expanding farming systems in the world. Its rapid expansion has brought with it several pathogens infecting different fish species. As a result, there has been a corresponding expansion in vaccine development to cope with the increasing number of infectious diseases in aquaculture. The success of vaccine development for bacterial diseases in aquaculture is largely attributed to empirical vaccine designs based on inactivation of whole cell (WCI) bacteria vaccines. However, an upcoming challenge in vaccine design is the increase of intracellular bacterial pathogens that are not responsive to WCI vaccines. Intracellular bacterial vaccines evoke cellular mediated immune (CMI) responses that “kill” and eliminate infected cells, unlike WCI vaccines that induce humoral immune responses whose protective mechanism is neutralization of extracellular replicating pathogens by antibodies. In this synopsis, I provide an overview of the intracellular bacterial pathogens infecting different fish species in aquaculture, outlining their mechanisms of invasion, replication, and survival intracellularly based on existing data. I also bring into perspective the current state of CMI understanding in fish together with its potential application in vaccine development. Further, I highlight the immunological pitfalls that have derailed our ability to produce protective vaccines against intracellular pathogens for finfish. Overall, the synopsis put forth herein advocates for a shift in vaccine design to include CMI-based vaccines against intracellular pathogens currently adversely affecting the aquaculture industry.
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