Whirling disease revisited: Pathogenesis, parasite biology and disease intervention

Subhodeep Sarker, Dennis Marc Kallert, Ronald Hedrick, Mansour El-Matbouli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Whirling disease (WD) is an ecologically and economically debilitating disease of rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss caused by the actinosporean spores of the parasite Myxo - bolus cerebralis. M. cerebralis has a complex, 2-host life cycle alternating between salmonid fish and the oligochaete host Tubifex tubifex. The parasite alternates between 2 spore forms as transmission stages: an actinosporean triactinomyxon spore that is produced in the oligochaete host and a myxosporean spore that develops in the salmonid host. Waterborne triactinomyxon spores released from infected T. tubifex oligochaetes attach to the salmonid host by polar filament extrusion elicited by chemical (nucleoside) and mechanical (thigmotropy) stimuli-a process which is rapidly followed by active penetration of the sporoplasms into the fish epidermis. Upon penetration, sporoplasms multiply and migrate via peripheral nerves and the central nervous system to reach the cartilage where they form trophozoites which undergo further multiplication and subsequent sporogenesis. M. cerebralis myxospores are released into the aquatic environment when infected fish die and autolyse, or when they are consumed and excreted by predators. Myxospores released into the water are ingested by susceptible T. tubifex where they develop intercellularly in the intestine over a period of 3 mo through 4 developmental stages to give rise to mature actinospores. In this article, we review our current understanding of WD-the parasite and its alternate hosts, life cycle and development of the parasite in either host, disease distribution, susceptibility and resistance mechanisms in salmonid host and strategies involved in diagnosis, prevention and control of WD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-175
Number of pages21
JournalDiseases of Aquatic Organisms
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Brown trout
  • Host-parasite interaction
  • Myxobolus cerebralis
  • Rainbow trout
  • Whirling disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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