Nuclear morphometry and ploidy of normal and neoplastic haemocytes in mussels

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Colleges, School and Institutes

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  • Department of Biology, University of Naples Federico II, 80126 Naples, Italy
  • Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II


Haemic neoplasia (HN) in bivalves has been reported in association with mass mortality events in various species of molluscs. The aim of this work was to quantify the nuclear morphometry and DNA content of neoplastic cells of mussels Mytilus galloprovincialis affected by HN using nuclear densitometry in Feulgen-stained preparations. The results were also compared with a population of normal mussel haemocytes. We captured 256 images of 3 different neoplasia stages and 120 images of normal haemocytes; thus, a total of 120,166 nuclei were analysed. We extracted 21 morphological parameters from normal and neoplastic nuclei. Eighteen of these parameters were different (P<0.05). Among those (expressed in pixel units—inter-pixel distance of 0.45 micrometres—as: normal vs. neoplastic) nuclear area (117.1±94.1 vs. 423.1±226.9), perimeter (44.9±14.0 vs. 79.0±21.3) and (IOD) integrated optical density (13.47±34.5 vs. 177.1±150.8) were relevant features to discriminate between normal and neoplastic cells. Those differences allowed identifying two distinctive populations of neoplastic nuclei, occasionally in the same individuals at a given phase of the disease. Moreover, neoplastic haemocytes in less extended lesions showed a ploidy value of 6.2 n along with the presence of a second population of circulating cells with a DNA content of 10.7n. In samples with moderate disease only one peak at 7n was observed. Finally, in more severe conditions, a further ploidy peak of 7.8n was recorded, accompanied by a shallow but broad peak of 31n. This latter extreme value is thought to be due to the presence of giant multinucleated cells where individual nuclei overlap in space and cannot be discerned individually. Computer-based imaging allowed the direct visualization of the cell populations and simultaneous collection of ploidy data as well as morphological features of nuclei.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0173219
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2017