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Harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) from German waters are infected by six species of lungworms (Metastrongyloidea). These nematodes parasitise the respiratory tract, are pathogenic and often cause secondary bacterial infections. In spite of their clinical and epidemiological significance, the life cycle and biology of lungworms in the marine environment is still largely unknown. Regions of ribosomal DNA (ITS-2) of all lungworms parasitising harbour porpoises and harbour seals in German waters were sequenced to characterise and compare the different species. The phylogenetic relationship among the lungworm species was analysed by means of their ITS-2 nucleotide sequences and the species-specific traits of the ITS-2 were used to screen wild fish as possible intermediate hosts for larval lungworms. Molecular markers were developed to identify larval nematodes via in-situ hybridisation of tissues of harbour porpoise and harbour seal prey fish. Potential wild intermediate fish hosts from the North Sea were dissected and found to harbour larval nematodes. Histological examination and in-situ hybridisation of tissue samples from these fish showed lungworm larvae within the intestinal wall. Based on larval ITS-2 nucleotide sequences, larval nematodes were identified as Pseudalius inflexus and Parafilaroides gymnurus. Turbot (Psetta maxima) bred and raised in captivity were experimentally infected with live L1s of Otostrongylus circumlitus and ensheathed larvae were recovered from the gastrointestinal tract of turbot and identified using molecular tools. Our results show that fish intermediate hosts play a role in the transmission of metastrongyloid nematodes of harbour porpoises and harbour seals.
(c) 2010 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.