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Int J Parasitol. 2011 Feb;41(2):173-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2010.08.006. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Interspecific differences in carotenoid content and sensitivity to UVB radiation in three acanthocephalan parasites exploiting a common intermediate host.

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Université de Bourgogne, Equipe Ecologie Evolutive, UMR CNRS 5561 Biogéosciences, 6 Bd Gabriel 21000 Dijon, France.


Few endoparasite species are pigmented. Acanthocephalans are an exception however, with several species being characterised by yellow to orange colouration both at the immature (cystacanth) and adult stages. However, the functional and adaptive significance of carotenoid-based colourations in acanthocephalans remains unclear. One possibility is that the carotenoid content of acanthocephalan cystacanths acts as a protective device against ultra-violet radiation (UVR) passing through the translucent cuticle of their crustacean hosts. Indeed, acanthocephalans often bring about behavioural changes in their aquatic intermediate hosts that can increase their exposure to light. Carotenoid composition and damage due to ultra-violet - B (UVB) radiation were investigated in three acanthocephalan parasite species that induce contrasting behavioural alterations in their common intermediate host, the crustacean amphipod Gammarus pulex. The fish acanthocephalans Pomphorhynchus laevis and Pomphorhynchus tereticollis both induce a positive phototaxis in gammarids, such that infected hosts spend more time out of shelters, while remaining benthic. The bird acanthocephalan Polymorphus minutus, on the other hand, induces a negative geotaxis, such that infected hosts typically swim close to the water surface, becoming more exposed to UV radiation. We show that differences in cystacanth colouration between acanthocephalan species directly reflect important differences in carotenoid content. The two fish parasites exhibit a contrasting pattern, with P. tereticollis harbouring a large diversity of carotenoid pigments, whereas P. laevis is characterised by a lower carotenoid content consisting mainly of lutein and astaxanthin. The highest carotenoid content is found in the bright orange P.minutus, with a predominance of esterified forms of astaxanthin. Exposure to UVB radiation revealed a higher susceptibility in P. laevis larvae compared with P. tereticollis and P. minutus, in terms of sublethality (decreased evagination rate) and of damage to DNA (increased cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers production). Although we found important and correlated interspecific differences in carotenoid composition and tolerance to high UVB radiation, our results do not fully support the hypothesis of adaptive carotenoid-based colourations in relation to UV protection. An alternative scenario for the evolution of carotenoid accumulation in acanthocephalan parasites is discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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