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Revista Brasileira de Parasitologia Veterinária

Print version ISSN 0103-846XOn-line version ISSN 1984-2961

Rev. Bras. Parasitol. Vet. vol.25 no.2 Jaboticabal Apr./June 2016  Epub Apr 12, 2016 

Original Article

Lymphocytic meningoencephalomyelitis associated with Myxobolus sp. (Bivalvulidae: Myxozoa) infection in the Amazonian fish Eigenmannia sp. (Sternopygidae: Gymnotiformes)

Meningoencefalomielite linfocitária associada à infecção por Myxobolus sp. (Bivalvulidae:Myxozoa) em peixe amazônico Eigenmannia sp. (Sternopygidae: Gymnotiformes)

José Ledamir Sindeaux Neto1 

Michele Velasco1 

José Mauro Vianna da Silva1 

Patricia de Fátima Saco dos Santos1 

Osimar Sanches2 

Patricia Matos3 

Edilson Matos1  * 

1Carlos Azevedo Research Laboratory, Universidade Federal Rural da Amazônia – UFRA, Belém, PA, Brasil

2Centro de Diagnóstico Veterinário – CDAPVET, Presidente Prudente, SP, Brasil

3Edilson Matos Research Laboratory, Universidade Federal do Pará – UFPA, Belém, PA, Brasil


The genus Myxobolus, parasites that infect fishes, which cause myxobolosis, includes spore organisms belonging to the phylum Myxozoa and represents approximately 36% of all species described for the entire phylum. This study describes lymphocytic meningoencephalomyelitis associated with Myxobolus sp. infection in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, CNS) of Eigenmannia sp., from the Amazon estuary region, in the Administrative District of Outeiro (DAOUT), Belém, Pará, Brazil. In May and June 2015, 40 Eigenmannia sp. specimens were captured from this region and examined. The fish were anesthetized, slaughtered and dissected for sexing (gonad evaluation) and studying parasites and cysts; after diagnosing the presence of the myxozoans using a light microscope, small fragments of the brain and spinal cord were removed for histological processing and Hematoxylin-Eosin and Ziehl-Neelsen staining. Histopathological analysis of the brain and spinal cord, based on histological sections stained with Hematoxylin-Eosin, pronounced and diffuse edema in these tissues, and congestion, degeneration, and focal necrosis of the cerebral cortex. The present study describes lymphocytic meningoencephalomyelitis associated with infection by Myxobolus sp. in the central nervous system of Eigenmannia sp.

Keywords:  Knifefish; Amazonia; myxosporean; histopathology; microscopy; nervous-system


O gênero Myxobolus é composto por parasitas esporais que podem infectar peixes e causar a “myxobolose”. São organismos pertencentes ao filo Myxozoa e representam cerca de 36% do total de espécies descritas para todo o Filo. Este estudo descreve meningoencefalomielite linfocitária, associada à infecção por Myxobolus sp. no cérebro e medula espinhal (SNC) de Eigenmannia sp, oriundo de região estuarina amazônica, no Distrito Administrativo de Outeiro (DAOUT), município de Belém, Pará, Brasil. Foram capturados e examinados 40 espécimes de Eigenmannia sp. entre os meses de maio e junho de 2015. Os peixes foram anestesiados, abatidos e dissecados para sexagem (avaliação das gônadas) e pesquisa de parasitos e cistos. Após o diagnóstico da presença dos mixosporidios, utilizando-se microscópio de luz, pequenos fragmentos do cérebro e da medula espinal foram removidos para processamento histológico e coloração por Hematoxilina-Eosina e coloração especial em Ziehl-Neelsen. A análise histopatológica do cérebro e da medula espinhal, com base em cortes histológicos corados com Hematoxilina-Eosina, mostrou edema difuso nesses tecidos, e congestão, degeneração e necrose focal do córtex cerebral. O presente estudo descreve meningoencefalomielite linfocítica, associada à infecção por Myxobolus sp., no sistema nervoso central de Eigenmannia sp.

Palavras-chave:  Ituí; Amazônia; mixosporidios; histopatologia; microscopia; sistema-nervoso


Fishes of the genus Eigenmannia (Order Gymnotiformes), have a serpentiform morphology and neotropical distribution (ALBERT, 2001) and are commonly known as “knifefishes” due to their long and slender bodies, which have undulatory movement, directly linked to their long anal fins (CAMPOS-DA-PAZ & ALBERT, 1998). Another important characteristic of these fishes is that they continously emit low-voltage electric discharges (KRAMER, 1999; ALVES-GOMES, 2001).

In their natural habitat, fishes can be infected by various parasites, even without showing clinical signs of parasitosis. However, when environmental changes occur due to anthropogenic action or natural reasons (which interfere with immunity), these fishes begin to show clinical signs of certain diseases that can vary from a reduction in body size to the death of the host (DEAN et al. 2001; PAVANELLI et al., 2002).

Among the parasites that infect fishes, we highlighted the genus Myxobolus, which causes myxobolosis (MOLNÁR & BÉKÉSI, 1992). They are parasitic spore organisms belonging to the phylum Myxozoa, having approximately 800 described species, which is equivalent to approximately 36% of all species described for the entire phylum (LOM & DYKOÁ, 2006). They have two valves, a criterion that classifies them in the order Bivalvulida, and their morphology comprises an ellipsoid body, two polar capsules, and a sporoplasm with binucleate cells, usually spherical and sometimes containing a polysaccharide inclusion (KENT et al., 2001; LOM & DYKOÁ, 2002, 2006).

M. cerebralis is the most studied Myxozoa, responsible for causing central nervous system (CNS) disease in fishes, the principal symptom of which is that infected fish swim in circles, thus giving it the name “whirling disease” (GILBERT & GRANATH, 2001).

Several other species of Myxobolus infect the CNS, as is the case for M. inaequus (KENT & HOFFMAN 1984), M. neurophilus, Guilford, 1963 (DZULINKSY et al., 1994), M. encephalicus, Mulsow, 1911, (ANTYCHOWICZ & REICHERT, 2005), and Myxobolus sp. (FERGUSON et al., 2011).

The present study describes lymphocytic meningoencephalomyelitis associated with infection by Myxobolus sp. in the brain and spinal cord (CNS) of Eigenmannia sp. from the Amazon estuary region, in the Administrative District of Outeiro (DAOUT), Belém, Pará, Brazil.

Materials and Methods

In May and June 2015, 40 Eigenmannia sp. specimens were captured from the Amazon estuary region, in the Administrative District of Outeiro-DAOUT (1°14ʹ S; 48°26ʹ W), Belém, Pará, Brazil, and examined. The specimens were transported live in artificially aerated plastic bags containing water from their habitat to the Carlos Azevedo Research Laboratory at the UFRA-Belém. Here, they were kept in aquaria with water temperature ranging from 28 to 30 °C. The fish were anesthetized with tricaine methanesulfonate (MS222,) at a concentration of 50 mg.L-1, the animal was anesthetized, slaughtered and dissected to evaluate the gonads (sexing) and analyze the parasites and cysts using a stereo microscope (ethics committee on animal use nº 013/2014 – UFRA). After determining the presence of cysts in the brain and spinal cord, small fragments of the organs were removed for observation under light microscopy (LM), pressed between a slide and coverslip, and analyzed to determine the presence of parasites. Images were captured using a Zeiss AxiocaCAm Erc 5 camera, appropriately coupled to a Zeiss Primo Star microscope, to measure the spores using AxioVision LE software. After diagnosing the presence of the myxosporids, small samples of the infected organs (approximately 0.5 cm thick) were removed, fixed in Davidson solution (neutral buffered formalin, glacial acetic acid, 95% ethanol alcohol, and distilled water) for 24 h. Samples were then processed using the paraffin embedding method, and 5 µm-thick sections were stained with Hematoxylin-Eosin and Ziehl-Neelsen (LUNA, 1968).

Results and Discussion

Necropsy of the Eigenmannia sp. specimens enabled us to study the parasites and sex the animals; 70% (28/40) of the specimens were infected by Myxobolus sp. in the brain and spinal cord. 60% (24/40) of the fish evaluated were male and 40% (16/40) were female.

More specific prevalence data demonstrated that of the 28 infected animals, 16 were male and 12 were female; 66% of the males and 75% of the females exhibited infection symptomatic of Myxobolus sp., revealing potential differences in infections for males and females. Adriano et al. (2012) found no difference between males and female in the prevalence of infection by Myxobolidae in Zungaro jahu, a fish from the Mato Grosso Pantanal, Brazil.

The spores exhibited morphological characteristics of the genus Myxobolus, according to descriptions by Lom & Dykoá (2006), with ellipsoid bodies, two asymmetrical polar capsules (Figures 1, 2 and 3), similar to those described by Kent & Hoffman (1984), Cellere et al. (2002) for M. inaequus in E. virescens and M. absonus in Pimelodus maculatus and Azevedo et al. (2002) for M. desaequalis in Apteronotus albifrons respectively.

Figure 1 Myxobolus sp. in semi-schematic drawing of a valvar view of the spore of the myxosporean parasite from the nervous system. 

Figure 2 Spinal cord histological section stained in Ziehl-Neelsen, showing spore cluster (arrowhead) in the subarachnoid space of the spinal cord, highlighting spores (inset) with large polar capsules (LPC) and small polar capsules (SPC) Scale bar: 80 µm. Figure 3. Myxobolus sp. spore, with large polar capsule (LPC) and small polar capsule (SPC), with the presence of nuclei (n) in the lateral space below the smaller polar capsule 10 µm. Figures 4 and 5. Photomicrograph of brain histological sections stained in Hematoxylin and Eosin, 4. Inflammatory infiltrate agglomerations (arrowhead), with the presence of astrocytes (arrow). Scale bar: 310 µm. 5. Pyramidal layer, highlighting inflammatory infiltrate agglomerations (arrowhead) and pyramidal neurons (arrow). Scale bar: 300 µm. 

Results of the measurements of length (L) and width (W) of the spores and polar capsules and morphometric comparisons with other Myxobolus spp. with different capsules are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Comparison of measurements of spores of Myxobolus sp. LS, total length of the spore; WS, width of the spore; PC, polar capsules (length x width). All measurements are provided in micrometers. 

Myxobolus inaequus
Kent & Hoffman (1984)
Myxobolus absonus
Cellere et al. (2002)
Myxobolus desaequalis
Azevedo et al. (2002)
Myxobolus sp.
Present study
Host Eigenmannia virescens Pimelodus maculatus Apteronotus albifrons Eigenmannia sp.
Site of infection Brain Opercular cavity Brânquias Brain
LS 19.8 15.7 18.3 20.6
WS 8.6 10.2 8.6 8.9
Larger PC 11.8 x 3.6 6.4 X 3.6 11.2 x 4.9 12.5 x 5.7
Smaller PC 4.8 x - 4.2 X 2.5 4.6 x 2.8 5.0 x 2.65
Larger capsule PFC 14 5 11 – 12 11
Smaller capsule PFC 6 3 4-5 3
Country South America South America Brazil Brazil

We found a correlation between the fish cells and parasitic spores via the hematoxylin-eosin (HE) histological technique (Figures 4 and 5), which was used by Molnár & Baska (1999) to redescribe M. hungaricus, Jaczó 1940, in Abramis brama.

Ziehl-Neelsen staining, used in the histopathological analyses, highlighted the polar capsules of the spores to identify spores with asymmetrical polar capsules dispersed throughout the nervous tissue (Figure 2); Kaur & Singh (2009) used a similar histological technique to highlight the polar capsules of M. eirasi in Cirrhina mrigala.

Histopathological analysis of the brain and spinal cord, based on histological sections stained with Hematoxylin-Eosin, allowed us to analyze pronounced and diffuse edema in these tissues, and congestion, degeneration, and focal necrosis of the cerebral cortex. In the cerebral cortex, there was also gliosis and marked satellitosis, a focal area of malacia, and marked lymphocytic inflammatory infiltrate in the brain parenchyma and meninges (Figures 4 and 5). We also observed a pronounced quantity of Myxobolus sp. spores forming cysts dispersed throughout the spinal cord. There was marked edema, malacia, and moderate lymphocytic inflammatory infiltrate in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, CNS) associated with the area of parasitism in the spinal cord (Figure 2). Using histopathological analysis, Campos et al. (2008) noted large quantities of inflammatory infiltrate caused by Myxobolus sp. infection, showing that parasites of this genus are able to cause inflammatory immune responses in their host.

The findings described in the present study enabled us to characterize a CNS infection in Eigenmannia sp. caused by spores of the genus Myxobolus, where histopathology characterized lymphocytic meningoencephalomyelitis of the brain and spinal cord. It is important to note that no clinical sign of disease was observed in the host. Studies of this nature are fundamental for understanding myxobolosis in the nervous system of Amazonian fish.


We are grateful to CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior), CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), FAPESPA (Fundação Amazônia de Amparo a Estudos e Pesquisas do Pará), SISBIO/ICMBio-IBAMA (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis), Licence nº. 27119 (Brazil); The Edilson Matos Research Laboratory (LPEM–UFPA).


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Received: November 25, 2015; Accepted: January 13, 2016

*Corresponding author: Edilson Matos. Avenida Presidente Tancredo Neves, 2501, Montese, CEP 66077-901, Belém, PA, Brasil. e-mail:

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