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Open Access Research

Life cycle of Renylaima capensis, a brachylaimid trematode of shrews and slugs in South Africa: two-host and three-host transmission modalities suggested by epizootiology and DNA sequencing

Wilhelm F Sirgel1, Patricio Artigas2, M Dolores Bargues2 and Santiago Mas-Coma2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa

2 Departamento de Parasitología, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Valencia, Av. Vicente Andrés Estellés s/n, 46100, Burjassot - Valencia, Spain

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Parasites & Vectors 2012, 5:169  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-5-169

Published: 13 August 2012

Abstract

Background

The life cycle of the brachylaimid trematode species Renylaima capensis, infecting the urinary system of the shrew Myosorex varius (Mammalia: Soricidae: Crocidosoricinae) in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, South Africa, has been elucidated by a study of its larval stages, epizootiological data in local snails and mammals during a 34-year period, and its verification with mtDNA sequencing.

Methods

Parasites obtained from dissected animals were mounted in microscope slides for the parasitological study and measured according to standardized methods. The mitochondrial DNA cox1 gene was sequenced by the dideoxy chain-termination method.

Results

The slugs Ariostralis nebulosa and Ariopelta capensis (Gastropoda: Arionidae) act as specific first and second intermediate hosts, respectively. Branched sporocysts massively develop in A. nebulosa. Intrasporocystic mature cercariae show differentiated gonads, male terminal duct, ventral genital pore, and usually no tail, opposite to Brachylaimidae in which mature cercariae show a germinal primordium and small tail. Unencysted metacercariae, usually brevicaudate, infect the kidney of A. capensis and differ from mature cercariae by only a slightly greater size. The final microhabitats are the kidneys and ureters of the shrews, kidney pelvis and calyces in light infections and also kidney medulla and cortex in heavy infections. Sporocysts, cercariae, metacercariae and adults proved to belong to R. capensis by analysis of a 437-bp-long cox1 fragment, which was identical except for three mutations in metacercariae, of which only one silent. Epizootiological studies showed usual sporocyst infection in A. nebulosa and very rare metacercarial infection in A. capensis, which does not agree with high prevalences and intensities in the shrews.

Conclusions

The presence of monotesticular adult forms and larval prevalences and intensities observed suggest that R. capensis may use two transmission strategies, a two-host life cycle by predation of A. nebulosa harbouring intrasporocystic cercariae may be the normal pattern, whereas a second mollusc host is just starting to be introduced. In shrews, a tissue-traversing, intraorganic migration followed by an interorganic migration to reach and penetrate the outer surface of either of both kidneys should occur. For first slug infection, the fluke takes advantage of the phenomenon that M. varius always urinate during defaecation. Consequently, in Brachylaimidae, the second intermediate mollusc host should evolutionarily be seen as a last addition to the cycle and their present adult stage microhabitat restricted to digestive tract and related organs as a loss of the tissue-traversing capacity of the metacercaria.