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Application of in-situ hybridization for the detection and identification of avian malaria parasites in paraffin wax-embedded tissues from captive penguins

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In captive penguins, avian malaria due to Plasmodium parasites is a well-recognized disease problem as these protozoa may cause severe losses among valuable collections of zoo birds. In blood films from naturally infected birds, identification and differentiation of malaria parasites based on morphological criteria are difficult because parasitaemia is frequently light and blood stages, which are necessary for identification of parasites, are often absent. Post-mortem diagnosis by histological examination of tissue samples is sometimes inconclusive due to the difficulties in differentiating protozoal tissue stages from fragmented nuclei in necrotic tissue. The diagnosis of avian malaria would be facilitated by a technique with the ability to specifically identify developmental stages of Plasmodium in tissue samples. Thus, a chromogenic in-situ hybridization (ISH) procedure with a digoxigenin-labelled probe, targeting a fragment of the 18S rRNA, was developed for the detection of Plasmodium parasites in paraffin wax-embedded tissues. This method was validated in comparison with traditional techniques (histology, polymerase chain reaction), on various tissues from 48 captive penguins that died at the zoological garden Schonbrunn, Vienna, Austria. Meronts of Plasmodium gave clear signals and were easily identified using ISH. Potential cross-reactivity of the probe was ruled out by the negative outcome of the ISH against a number of protozoa and fungi. Thus, ISH proved to be a powerful, specific and sensitive tool for unambiguous detection of Plasmodium parasites in paraffin wax-embedded tissue samples.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Pathology and Forensic Veterinary Medicine, Department of Pathobiology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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