Epitheliocystis infection in cultured white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus): Antigenic and ultrastructural similarities of the causative agent to the chlamydiae

Joseph M. Groff, Scott E. LaPatra, Robert J. Munn, Mark L Anderson, Bennie Osburn

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43 Scopus citations


A mild to moderate branchial epitheliocystis infection was diagnosed in subyearling (11 months old, 250-300 g) white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) from a private culture facility with a 4-8% mortality in the population. Infected branchial epithelial cells contained the coccoid to coccobacillary epitheliocystis organisms, which appeared as cytoplasmic inclusions composed of a fine, homogeneous, dense, basophilic, granular material. The infected cells were variably enlarged with spherical to oval profiles and were randomly distributed throughout the branchial epithelium. The cytoplasmic inclusions stained positive with Macchiavello stain but negative with Brown and Brenn, periodic acid-Schiff, and Gimenez stains. Expression of chlamydial antigen was demonstrated within the cytoplasmic inclusions using a standard peroxidase-antiperoxidase immunohistochemical technique. Three stages of coordinated intracellular development were recognized by electron microscopy. The reticulate bodies were oval to spherical and 0.4-0.8 × 0.5-1.4 μm but often exhibited a pleomorphic and convoluted appearance because of variable membrane invaginations and evaginations suggestive of uneven fission and budding. Separate host cells contained intermediate bodies that were spherical to oval and 0.2-0.4 × 0.3-0.6 μm although often observed in the process of apparent uneven division. The presence of a cap or plaque composed of hexagonally arrayed fibrillar surface projections was initially recognized in this stage. A homogeneous population of 0.3-0.4 μm oval elementary bodies were observed separately in individual host cells. This developmental stage had a single, dense, compact, eccentrically located cytoplasmic condensation that occurred opposite to the location of the cap of hexagonally arrayed fibrillar surface projections. Morphologic characteristics of the epitheliocystis organism in these white sturgeon were similar to those previously described in other teleosts and expands the species catalogue of epitheliocystis infection. Furthermore, the ultrastructural similarities to the chlamydiae and the immunohistochemical detection of chlamydial antigen provides further evidence that the epitheliocystis agent is related to members of the Chlamydiales. Although the infection was considered mild to moderate and could not be definitively attributed to the mortality in this population, the potential adverse impact of epitheliocystis infection on sturgeon culture should be considered especially in intensive fish culture operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-180
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • veterinary(all)


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