DAO 61:187-197 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/dao061187

Development of PCR-based methods for detection of Sphaerothecum destruens in fish tissues

Holly L. Mendonca, Kristen D. Arkush*

University of California-Davis, Bodega Marine Laboratory, PO Box 247, 2099 Westside Road, Bodega Bay, California 94923, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Single-round and nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were developed for amplification of a 434 bp fragment of the small subunit ribosomal RNA (18S rRNA) gene from Sphaerothecum destruens, previously known as the rosette agent, an intracellular parasite of salmonid fishes. Both tests have successfully amplified S. destruens-specific DNA from different isolates of S. destruens but not from related organisms. The limits of detection using the nested PCR test were 1 pg for purified S. destruens genomic DNA and 0.1 fg for plasmid DNA. We conducted 2 experimental transmission studies, consisting of injection or waterborne exposure of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha to spore stages of the parasite. In the injection study, parasite DNA was detected in 100% of kidney samples from exposed fish (n = 83) at 1 and 3 mo post-exposure using nested PCR, versus 98% using microscopic analysis of Gram-stained impression smears made from the kidney. Following waterborne exposure, fish were sampled over the course of a year. From each fish, samples of gill, liver, posterior intestine and kidney were analyzed. S. destruens-specific DNA was detected most often in gill and kidney over the course of the experiment, and 71% (64/90) of the exposed fish were identified as positive for S. destruens using the nested PCR test, versus 16% (14/90) using microscopic analysis of Gram-stained kidney smears. Natural infections in captive broodstock of adult winter-run Chinook salmon, originally diagnosed by examination of Gram-stained kidney smears, were confirmed using the nested PCR test in all fish examined (15/15). Further, the nested test amplified parasite-specific DNA from other tissues in these fish with varying frequencies. This report introduces the first DNA-based detection method for S. destruens, to be used alone as a diagnostic tool or in conjunction with histologic tests for confirmatory identification of the parasite.

KEY WORDS: Sphaerothecum destruens · Rosette agent · Polymerase chain reaction · Salmonids · Detection method

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