Aims: As the most abundant cell population in the blood, erythrocytes represent an attractive source of nutrients and a protective niche to a number of pathogens. Previously, we observed the attachment of the myxozoan parasite Sphaerospora molnari to erythrocytes of its host, common carp (Cyprinus carpio), raising a number of questions about the nature of this interaction.
Methods and results: We elucidated the impact of S molnari on the number of erythrocytes in healthy and immunocompromised fish, over a period of 6 weeks. While we observed only a mild decrease in RBC numbers in healthy individuals, we witnessed gradual and finally severe haemolytic anaemia in immunosuppressed fish. Accompanying this overt loss was increased erythropoiesis as represented by an increase of erythroblasts in the blood. In vitro, we demonstrated the uptake of host proteins from CFSE‐labelled erythrocytes, ultimately inducing death of host RBCs, likely for nutrient gain of the parasite. Nevertheless, the results do not exclude a possible role of erythrocyte‐derived proteins in immune evasion.
Conclusion: Overall, the obtained data provide first evidence for the previously unknown appetite of myxozoan parasites for host erythrocytes and create an important framework for future investigations into the molecular mechanisms underlining this interaction.