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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 148:87-94 (2022)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03647

Gill epithelial cell nuclear virus disease is prevalent and widespread in Mya arenaria clams of Chesapeake Bay, USA

Christopher F. Dungan1,*, Esther C. Peters2

1Maryland Department of Natural Resources (retired), Cooperative Oxford Laboratory, Oxford, Maryland 21654, USA
2Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Several historic investigations have reported intranuclear virus infections of Mya arenaria soft-shell clams from the Atlantic coast of North America, but their descriptive details are limited. Among numerous multi-clam samples of Chesapeake Bay M. arenaria that were analyzed histopathologically during clam population surveys from 2000-2009, virus replication apparently caused extreme hypertrophy among the infected nuclei of gill epithelial cells. Infected cells were often abundant within the gill epithelia of affected clams, where their nuclear abnormalities suggested compromised genetic controls of critical cellular physiological functions. Infection prevalences were generally elevated, reaching 90% in 25% of samples. A grand mean prevalence of 67% resulted for all (69) M. arenaria samples of the decadal investigation, which included 1934 individual clams. Infected nuclei of gill epithelial cells were microscopically conspicuous by their extreme hypertrophic diameters of 10 µm or more and their prominent DNA-inclusion bodies. Cells with abnormal, hypertrophic nuclei were often abundant in the epithelia of M. arenaria gills. Transmission electron microscopy revealed abundant, replicating, icosahedral viral particles of 65-85 nm diameter within such hypertrophic nuclei. Viruses frequently occurred in paracrystalline nuclear arrays, showed granular internal contents, and had radial structures that suggested capsid surface ornamentation. Normal heterochromatin of infected nuclei appeared emarginated by dense central masses of replicating virions. Large, electron-dense DNA inclusion bodies routinely occurred at the internal margins of virus-infected nuclei. These may be virus replication centers based on their ultrastructural features and close proximity to replicated viral particles.


KEY WORDS: Nuclear virus · Hypertrophic nuclei · Transmission electron microscopy · TEM · Mya arenaria


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Cite this article as: Dungan CF, Peters EC (2022) Gill epithelial cell nuclear virus disease is prevalent and widespread in Mya arenaria clams of Chesapeake Bay, USA. Dis Aquat Org 148:87-94. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03647

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