Cell Biology and Toxicology

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 249–266 | Cite as

In vitro interactions between several species of harmful algae and haemocytes of bivalve molluscs

  • Hélène HégaretEmail author
  • Patricia Mirella da Silva
  • Gary H. Wikfors
  • Hansy Haberkorn
  • Sandra E. Shumway
  • Philippe Soudant


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) can have both lethal and sublethal impacts on shellfish. To understand the possible roles of haemocytes in bivalve immune responses to HABs and how the algae are affected by these cells (haemocytes), in vitro tests between cultured harmful algal species and haemocytes of the northern quahog (= hard clam) Mercenaria mercenaria, the soft-shell clam Mya arenaria, the eastern and Pacific oysters Crassostrea virginica and Crassostrea gigas and the Manila clam Ruditapes philippinarum were carried out. Within their respective ranges of distribution, these shellfish species can experience blooms of several HAB species, including Prorocentrum minimum, Heterosigma akashiwo, Alexandrium fundyense, Alexandrium minutum and Karenia spp.; thus, these algal species were chosen for testing. Possible differences in haemocyte variables attributable to harmful algae and also effects of haemolymph and haemocytes on the algae themselves were measured. Using microscopic and flow cytometric observations, changes were measured in haemocytes, including cell morphology, mortality, phagocytosis, adhesion and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, as well as changes in the physiology and the characteristics of the algal cells, including mortality, size, internal complexity and chlorophyll fluorescence. These experiments suggest different effects of the several species of harmful algae upon bivalve haemocytes. Some harmful algae act as immunostimulants, whereas others are immunosuppressive. P. minimum appears to activate haemocytes, but the other harmful algal species tested seem to cause a suppression of immune functions, generally consisting of decreases in phagocytosis, production of ROS and cell adhesion and besides cause an increase in the percentage of dead haemocytes, which could be attributable to the action of chemical toxins. Microalgal cells exposed to shellfish haemolymph generally showed evidence of algal degradation, e.g. loss of chlorophyll fluorescence and modification of cell shape. Thus, in vitro tests allow a better understanding of the role of the haemocytes and the haemolymph in the defence mechanisms protecting molluscan shellfish from harmful algal cells and could also be further developed to estimate the effects of HABs on bivalve molluscs in vivo.


Bivalve Haemocyte Harmful algae HAB Immune response Phagocytosis 



We thank Nelly Le Goïc, Lise Raimbault, Madeleine Gonçalvez, Jennifer Alix and Mark Dixon for their help during the experiments and the preparation of the manuscript; we also thank Ludovic Donaghy for his help preparing the manuscript. This work was supported by the Lerner Gray Fund for Marine Research from the American Museum of Natural History, the National Shellfisheries Association, Sigma Xi, Connecticut Sea Grant, and by USEPA/ECOHAB grant number 523792.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hélène Hégaret
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patricia Mirella da Silva
    • 2
    • 4
  • Gary H. Wikfors
    • 3
  • Hansy Haberkorn
    • 2
  • Sandra E. Shumway
    • 1
  • Philippe Soudant
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of ConnecticutGrotonUSA
  2. 2.Université de Bretagne Occidentale—IUEM, LEMAR CNRS UMR 6539PlouzanéFrance
  3. 3.Northeast Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries ServiceNOAAMilfordUSA
  4. 4.Departamento de Biologia MolecularCentro de Ciências Exatas e da Natureza, Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Cidade UniversitáriaJoão PessoaBrazil

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