Effect of multiple microsporidian infections and temperature stress on the heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) response of the amphipod Gammarus pulex
Background: Increasing temperatures can be a significant stressor for aquatic organisms. Amphipods are one of the most abundant and functionally important groups of freshwater macroinvertebrates. Therefore, we conducted a laboratory experiment with Gammarus pulex, naturally infected with microsporidians. Methods: In each group, 42 gammarids were exposed to 15°C and 25°C for 24 h. Sex of gammarids was determined and microsporidian infections were detected by specific PCR. To quantify stress levels of the amphipods, the 70 kDa heat shock proteins (hsp70) were analyzed by western blot. Results: More males than females were detected in the randomized population sample (ratio of females/males: 0.87). No mortality occurred at 15°C, while 42.9% of gammarids died at 25°C. Sequences of three microsporidians (M1, M2, M3) were detected in this G. pulex population (99.7%-100% sequence identity to Microsporidium spp. from GenBank). Previous studies showed that M3 is vertically transmitted, while M1 and M2 are presumably horizontally transmitted. Prevalences, according to PCR, were 27.0%, 37.8% and 64.9% for Microsporidium sp. M1, M2 and M3, respectively. Cumulative prevalence was 82.4%. Multiple infections with all three microsporidians in single gammarids were detected with a prevalence of 8.1%, and bi-infections ranged between 12.2% and 25.7%. In dead gammarids, comparatively low prevalences were noted for M1 (males and females: 11.1%) and M2 (females: 11.1%; males 0%), while prevalence of M3 was higher (females: 66.7%; males: 88.9%). No significant effect of host sex on microsporidian infection was found. Significant effects of temperature and bi-infection with Microsporidium spp. M2 + M3 on hsp70 response were detected by analysis of the whole sample (15°C and 25°C group) and of M2 + M3 bi-infection and gammarid weight when analyzing the 25°C group separately. None of the parameters had a significant effect on hsp70 levels in the 15°C group. Conclusion: This study shows that some microsporidian infections in amphipods can cause an increase in stress protein level, in addition to other stressors. Although more harmful effects of combined stressors can be expected, experimental evidence suggests that such an increase might possibly have a protective effect for the host against acute temperature stress.