Brain-encysting trematodes and altered monoamine activity in naturally infected killifish Fundulus parvipinnis

J Fish Biol. 2012 Dec;81(7):2213-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2012.03439.x. Epub 2012 Sep 5.


This paper presents novel evidence to address mechanisms by which trematode parasites effect behavioural changes in naturally infected fish hosts. California killifish Fundulus parvipinnis infected with the brain-encysting trematode Euhaplorchis californiensis display conspicuous swimming behaviours that render them 30 times more likely to be eaten by birds, the parasite's final host. Prevalence of E. californiensis reaches nearly 100% in most F. parvipinnis populations, with parasite biomass constituting almost 2% of F. parvipinnis biomass in some locations. Despite having thousands of cysts on their brains, infected fish grow and mature at rates comparable to those of uninfected populations. The lack of general pathology combined with the specificity of the altered behaviours suggests that the behavioural changes are due to parasite manipulation. The monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which control locomotion and social behaviour in fishes and other vertebrates, were examined to explore the underlying mechanisms of this behaviour modification. Whereas previous studies were similarly conducted with experimentally infected fish, in this study, brain dopaminergic and serotonergic activity were analysed in naturally infected fish to assess how E. californiensis may alter F. parvipinnis monoamines in a naturally occurring system. A parasite density-associated decrease in serotonergic activity occurred in the hippocampus of naturally infected fish, as well as a decrease in dopaminergic activity in the raphe nuclei, suggesting that E. californiensis inhibits serotonin and dopamine signaling in naturally infected F. parvipinnis. The neurochemical profile of infected fish is consistent with the hypothesis that E. californiensis affects brain monoaminergic systems in order to induce impulse-driven, active, and aggressive behaviour in its hosts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Brain / parasitology*
  • Fish Diseases / pathology*
  • Fundulidae / parasitology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • Swimming
  • Trematoda / physiology
  • Trematode Infections / pathology
  • Trematode Infections / veterinary*


  • Biogenic Monoamines