Redescription of Cardiosporidium cionae (Van Gaver and Stephan, 1907) (Apicomplexa: Piroplasmida), a plasmodial parasite of ascidian haemocytes

Eur J Protistol. 2008 Aug;44(3):181-96. doi: 10.1016/j.ejop.2007.11.005. Epub 2008 Mar 4.


Cardiosporidium cionae (Apicomplexa), from the ascidian Ciona intestinalis L., is redescribed with novel ultrastructural, phylogenetic and prevalence data. Ultrastructural analysis of specimens of C. intestinalis collected from the Gulf of Naples showed sporonts and plasmodia of C. cionae within the host pericardial body. Several merogonic stages and free merozoites were found in the pericardial body, together with sexual stages. All stages showed typical apicomplexan cell organelles, i.e. apicoplasts, rhoptries and subpellicular microtubules. Merogonic stages of C. cionae were also produced inside haemocytes. A fragment of the rSSU gene of C. cionae was amplified by PCR using DNA extracted from the pericardial bodies. The amplified product showed closest affinity with other apicomplexan representatives and a 66bp unique insertion, specific for C. cionae, at position 1644. Neighbour-joining phylogenetic analysis placed C. cionae in a clade with other piroplasm genera, including Cytauxzoon, Babesia and Theileria spp. The parasite was found in different populations of C. intestinalis with highest prevalence in October-November. Ultrastructural and DNA data showed that the organism, described in 1907 from the same host but not illustrated in detail, is a member of a novel marine apicomplexan radiation of tunicate parasites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Protozoan / analysis
  • DNA, Protozoan / isolation & purification
  • Hemocytes / parasitology*
  • Hemocytes / ultrastructure
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Piroplasmida / classification*
  • Piroplasmida / genetics
  • Piroplasmida / growth & development
  • Piroplasmida / ultrastructure
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prevalence
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Urochordata / parasitology*
  • Urochordata / ultrastructure


  • DNA, Protozoan