DAO 51:49-60 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/dao051049

Severe apicomplexan infection in the oyster Ostrea chilensis: a possible predisposing factor in bonamiosis

P. M. Hine*

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 14-901, Kilbirnie, Wellington, New Zealand
*Present address: National Centre for Disease Investigation, MAF Operations, PO Box 40742, Lower Hutt, New Zealand. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Histological examination of 6455 oysters Ostrea chilensis from Foveaux Strait south of New Zealand over a 5 yr period showed >85% contained apicomplexan zoites, irrespective of season. Zoites occurred around the haemolymph sinuses and the digestive diverticulae at all intensities of infection; occurrence in the sub-epithelium, Leydig tissue and gills/mantle increased with increasing intensity of infection. Many (>35%) oysters were heavily infected, and most of them had severely damaged tissues. Heavy infections affected gametogenesis; 1% of lightly infected oysters had empty gonad follicles lacking germinal epithelium compared with 2% of moderately infected oysters and 9% of heavily infected oysters. Of oysters with empty gonad follicles, 75% were heavily infected with zoites. The parasite spread from the haemolymph sinuses and moved between Leydig cells, causing their dissociation and lysis. Some zoites were intracellular in Leydig cells. Lesions contained many haemocytes phagocytosing zoites, leading to haemocyte lysis and causing a haemocytosis. Fibrosis occurred to repair lesions in a few oysters. The zoites had a typical apical complex with 2 polar rings and 84 sub-pellicular microtubules. Prevalence and intensity of concurrent Bonamia exitiosus infection was related to the intensity of zoite infection, with only 3.8% of B. exitiosus infections occurring in the absence of zoites, 20.0% occurring in light zoite infections, 30.9% in moderate zoite infections, and 45.4% when oysters were heavily infected with zoites. The converse was not the case, as 75.3% of zoite infections occurred in the absence of B. exitiosus infection, including 51.1% of moderate to heavy zoite infections. There was a statistically significant association between intensities of B. exitiosus and of zoites (p < 0.0001). Zoites may increase the susceptibility of oysters to B. exitiosus by occupying and destroying haemocytes, and by destroying connective tissue cells and utilising host glycogen reserves. The parasite may be heteroxenous, with other stages in the terebellid polychaete Pseudopista rostrata.

KEY WORDS: Apicomplexan · Zoites · Oysters · Ostrea chilensis · Bonamia exitiosus · Susceptibility · Gametogenesis

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