Veronaea botryosa is a melanized mold and cause of systemic fungal infections in cultured sturgeon (Acipenser spp.). Mortality in adult female sturgeon caused by this emergent pathogen results in significant economic losses for the caviar industry. Little is known regarding environmental conditions conducive to V. botryosa infection. This study evaluated the effect of temperature on V. botryosa infectivity and dissemination following intramuscular injection challenge of white sturgeon maintained at 13 or 18 °C for 40 days. Daily mortality was recorded and persistence of the fungus in the livers of moribund and surviving fish was investigated using culture and histopathological analysis. Fish maintained at 18 °C developed systemic phaeohyphomycosis and had significantly greater mortality than controls and fish maintained at 13 °C (p < 0.05). Challenged fish, regardless of temperature, exhibited lesions in multiple organs. However, muscle lesions, angioinvasion, and systemic dissemination were more severe and widespread in fish challenged at the higher temperature. In vitro cytotoxicity of V. botryosa was evaluated in white sturgeon skin (WSSK-1) and epithelioma papulosum cyprini (EPC) cell lines inoculated at spore:cell ratios of 1:10, 1:1 and 10:1, then incubated 15, 20 and 25 °C. Cytotoxicity, as indicated by quantifying the release of lactate dehydrogenase into culture supernatants, increased with increasing spore dose and incubation temperature in both fish cell lines. Findings suggest that temperature significantly influences the development of systemic V. botryosa infection in white sturgeon and that WSSK-1 and EPC cells are suitable in vitro models for the study of host-pathogen interactions between V. botryosa and fish epithelial cells.
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