Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is the causative agent of chytridiomycosis, a fungal skin disease in amphibians and driver of worldwide amphibian declines.
We focussed on the early stages of infection by Bd in 3 amphibian species with a differential susceptibility to chytridiomycosis. Skin explants of Alytes muletensis, Litoria caerulea and Xenopus leavis were exposed to Bd in an Ussing chamber for 3 to 5 days. Early interactions of Bd with amphibian skin were observed using light microscopy and transmission electron microscopy. To validate the observations in vitro, comparison was made with skin from experimentally infected frogs. Additional in vitro experiments were performed to elucidate the process of intracellular colonization in L. caerulea.
Early interactions of Bd with amphibian skin are: attachment of zoospores to host skin, zoospore germination, germ tube development, penetration into skin cells, invasive growth in the host skin, resulting in the loss of host cell cytoplasm. Inoculation of A. muletensis and L. caerulea skin was followed within 24 h by endobiotic development, with sporangia located intracellularly in the skin. Evidence is provided of how intracellular colonization is established and how colonization by Bd proceeds to deeper skin layers. Older thalli develop rhizoid-like structures that spread to deeper skin layers, form a swelling inside the host cell to finally give rise to a new thallus.
In X. laevis, interaction of Bd with skin was limited to an epibiotic state, with sporangia developing upon the skin. Only the superficial epidermis was affected. Epidermal cells seemed to be used as a nutrient source without development of intracellular thalli. The in vitro data agreed with the results obtained after experimental infection of the studied frog species. These data suggest that the colonization strategy of B. dendrobatidis is host dependent, with the extent of colonization most likely determined by inherent characteristics of the host epidermis.