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Published in: Marine Environmental Research, Vol. 69, Issue, 5, 2010, p. 337-344.


Northern quahogs, Mercenaria mercenaria (L.), frequently are infected with the parasite Quahog Parasite Unknown (QPX, Labyrintohomorpha, Thraustochytriales), which can cause morbidity and mortality of the quahogs. Possible interactions between this parasitic disease and exposure to the harmful dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum in M. mercenaria were studied experimentally. Quahogs from Massachusetts with variable intensity of QPX infection were exposed, under controlled laboratory conditions, to cultured P. minimum added to the natural plankton at a cell density equivalent to a natural bloom. After 5 days of exposure, individual clams were diagnosed histologically to assess prevalence and intensity of parasitic infection, as well as other pathological conditions. Further, cellular defense status of clams was evaluated by analyzing hemocyte parameters (morphological and functional) using flow-cytometry. Exposure of quahogs to P. minimum resulted in: a lower percentage of phagocytic hemocytes, higher production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), larger hemocyte size, more-numerous hemocytic aggregates, and increased numbers of hemocytes in gills accompanied by vacuolation and hyperplasia of the water-tubular epithelial cells of the gills. Quahogs had a low prevalence of QPX; by chance, the parasite was present only in quahogs exposed to P. minimum. Thus, the effect of QPX alone on the hemocyte parameters of quahogs could not be assessed in this experiment, but it was possible to assess different responses of infected versus non-infected quahogs to P. minimum. QPX-infected quahogs exposed to P. minimum had repressed percentage of phagocytic hemocytes, consistent with immuno-modulating effect of P. minimum upon several molluscan species, as well as smaller hemocytes and increased hemocyte infiltration throughout the soft tissues. This experiment demonstrates the importance of considering interactive effects of different factors on the immunology and histopathology of bivalve shellfish, and highlights the importance of considering the presence of parasites when bivalves are subjected to harmful-algal blooms.

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