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Prototheca zopfii.jpg
Histologic stain of a Prototheca zopfii infection in a dog
Classification and external resources
Specialty Infectious disease
ICD-10 B88.8 (ILDS B88.83)
DiseasesDB 33989
eMedicine derm/348
Photomicrograph of Prototheca wickerhamii infection in a human. Note the floret-like arrangements. Hematoxylin and eosin stain.
Photomicrograph of Prototheca wickerhamii infection in a human. Note the floret-like arrangements. Gomori methenamine silver(GMS) stain.
Photomicrograph of Prototheca wickerhamii infection in a human. Note the floret-like arrangements. Periodic acid-Schiff(PAS) stain.

Protothecosis is a disease found in dogs, cats, cattle, and humans caused by a type of green alga known as Prototheca that lacks chlorophyll. It and its close relative Helicosporidium are unusual in that they are actually green algae that have become parasites.[1] The two most common species are Prototheca wickerhamii and Prototheca zopfii. Both are known to cause disease in dogs, while most human cases are caused by P. wickerhami.[2] Prototheca is found worldwide in sewage and soil. Infection is rare despite high exposure, and can be related to a defective immune system.[3] In dogs, females and Collies are most commonly affected.[4]

The first human case was identified in 1964 in Sierra Leone.[5]


Treatment with amphotericin B has been reported.[6]

The organism[edit]

Prototheca has been thought to be a mutant of Chlorella, a type of single-celled green alga. However, while Chlorella contains galactose and galactosamine in the cell wall, Prototheca lacks these. Also, Chlorella obtains its energy through photosynthesis, while Prototheca is saprotrophic, feeding on dead and decaying organic matter. When Prototheca was first isolated from slime flux of trees in 1894, it was thought to be a type of fungus.[7] Its size varies from 2 to 15 micrometres.[8]

Protothecosis in cattle[edit]

Cattle can be affected by protothecal enteritis and mastitis.[9] Protothecal mastitis is endemic worldwide, although most cases of infected herds have been reported in Germany, the United States, and Brazil.[10]

Protothecosis in dogs[edit]

Disseminated protothecosis is most commonly seen in dogs. The algae enters the body through the mouth or nose and causes infection in the intestines. From there it can spread to the eye, brain, and kidneys. Symptoms can include diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, inflammation of the eye (uveitis), retinal detachment, ataxia, and seizures.[11]

Dogs with acute blindness and diarrhea that develop exudative retinal detachment should be assessed for protothecosis.[7] Diagnosis is through culture or finding the organism in a biopsy, cerebrospinal fluid, vitreous humour, or urine. Treatment of the disseminated form in dogs is very difficult, although use of antifungal medication has been successful in a few cases.[4] Prognosis for cutaneous protothecosis is guarded and depends on the surgical options. Prognosis for the disseminated form is grave. This may be due to delayed recognition and treatment.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tartar A, Boucias DG, Adams BJ, Becnel JJ (2002). "Phylogenetic analysis identifies the invertebrate pathogen Helicosporidium sp as a green alga (Chlorophyta)". Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 52 (Pt 1): 273–9. PMID 11837312. 
  2. ^ Leimann B, Monteiro P, Lazéra M, Candanoza E, Wanke B (2004). "Protothecosis". Med Mycol 42 (2): 95–106. doi:10.1080/13695780310001653653. PMID 15124862. 
  3. ^ a b Hosaka S, Hosaka M (2004). "A case report of canine protothecosis". J Vet Med Sci 66 (5): 593–7. doi:10.1292/jvms.66.593. PMID 15187378. 
  4. ^ a b Ettinger, Stephen J.;Feldman, Edward C. (1995). Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine (4th ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN 0-7216-6795-3. 
  5. ^ Lass-Flörl C, Fille M, Gunsilius E, Gastl G, Nachbaur D (2004). "Disseminated infection with Prototheca zopfii after unrelated stem cell transplantation for leukemia". J. Clin. Microbiol. 42 (10): 4907–8. doi:10.1128/JCM.42.10.4907-4908.2004. PMC 522359. PMID 15472379. 
  6. ^ Mohabeer, A. J.; Kaplan, P. J.; Southern Jr, P. M.; Gander, R. M. (1997). "Algaemia due to Prototheca wickerhamii in a patient with myasthenia gravis". Journal of clinical microbiology 35 (12): 3305–3307. PMC 230169. PMID 9399541. 
  7. ^ a b Hollingsworth S (2000). "Canine protothecosis". Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 30 (5): 1091–101. PMID 11033876. 
  8. ^ Lee W, Lagios M, Leonards R (1975). "Wound infection by Prototheca wickerhamii, a saprophytic alga pathogenic for man". J Clin Microbiol 2 (1): 62–6. PMC 274126. PMID 1225929. 
  9. ^ Osterstock J, Mansell J, Roussel A (2005). "Protothecal enteritis as a cause of protein-losing enteropathy in a bull". J Am Vet Med Assoc 227 (9): 1476–9, 1418. doi:10.2460/javma.2005.227.1476. PMID 16279394. 
  10. ^ Roesler U, Hensel A (2003). "Longitudinal analysis of Prototheca zopfii-specific immune responses: correlation with disease progression and carriage in dairy cows". J Clin Microbiol 41 (3): 1181–6. doi:10.1128/JCM.41.3.1181-1186.2003. PMC 150299. PMID 12624049. 
  11. ^ Gionfriddo, Juliet R. (March 2007). "An unusual cause of blindness in a Siberian husky". Veterinary Medicine (Advanstar Communications) 102 (3): 172–178. 

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protothecosis — Please support Wikipedia.
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Journal of Clinical Microbiology
Mon, 31 Oct 2011 12:18:45 -0700

Development of protothecosis in immunocompromised patients after lengthy periods of hospitalization raises the possibility of nosocomial and/or environmental acquisition. A source of infection was not identified in our patient; however, a source should ...
Science Daily (press release)
Mon, 10 May 2010 18:45:51 -0700

Kazuo Satoh, Kenji Ooe, Hirotoshi Nagayama and Koichi Makimura. Prototheca cutis sp. nov., a newly discovered pathogen of protothecosis isolated from inflamed human skin. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 2010; 60 (5): ...


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The major adverse events included osteomyelitis and protothecosis; one fatal necrotizing fasciitis; cellulitis and ecchymosis; tendon ruptures; atrophy of the plantar fat was described after injecting a neuroma; and local skin effects appeared as ...

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