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Keywords:

  • Snake;
  • Erythrocytes;
  • Hepatozoon spp.;
  • Chromatin;
  • DNA fragmentation;
  • Cell death

Abstract

Forms of the protozoan of the Hepatozoon genus are detected free in the circulation and also within some of the erythrocytes of infected snakes. In healthy snakes, DNA fragmentation and cell death usually affect a few circulating erythrocytes in agreement with the long life span expected for these cells. In the present study we investigated whether infection by Hepatozoon spp. affected the incidence of DNA fragmentation and cell death in erythrocytes from the rattlesnake, Crotalus durissus terrificus. Methods such as the kinetics of Feulgen-DNA hydrolysis, and the TUNEL and comet assays, previously used for the study of chromatin organization and DNA fragmentation in erythrocytes of healthy snakes, were used. The results indicated that Hepatozoon spp. increased the DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation typical of cell death in circulating erythrocytes of C. d. terrificus, including cells that do not harbour the parasite. The Hepatozoon infection is thus suggested to accelerate destruction of erythrocytes in the rattlesnake, not only affecting cells harbouring the parasite, but also in those without it.