Polyphasic Rhabdomyositis in California Sea Lions (Zalophus Californianus): Pathology and Potential Causes

Mauricio Seguel, Kathleen M. Colegrove, Cara Field, Sophie Whoriskey, Tenaya Norris, Padraig Duignan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A myositis syndrome has been recognized for more than a decade in California sea lions (CSLs; Zalophus californianus) but a detailed description of the lesions and potential causes of this condition is lacking. The tissues of 136 stranded CSLs with rhabdomyositis were examined. Rhabdomyositis was considered incidental in 67% (91/136) of the CSLs, and a factor contributing to the animal stranding (significant rhabdomyositis) in 33% (45/136). Of the 91 cases with incidental rhabdomyositis, lesions consisted of a few small foci of lymphohistiocytic inflammation. Of the 45 cases with significant rhabdomyositis, 28 (62%) also presented with major comorbidities such as leptospirosis (2 animals) and domoic acid toxicosis (6 animals), whereas 17 (38%) had severe polyphasic rhabdomyositis as the only major disease process associated with mortality. In these animals, most striated muscles had multiple white streaks and diffuse atrophy. Microscopically, there was myofiber necrosis surrounded by lymphocytes and histiocytes admixed with areas of myofiber regeneration, and/or moderate to severe rhabdomyocyte atrophy usually adjacent to intact Sarcocystis neurona cysts. At the interface of affected and normal muscle, occasional T lymphocytes infiltrated the sarcoplasm of intact myocytes, and occasional myofibers expressed MHCII proteins in the sarcoplasm. S. neurona antibody titers and cyst burden were higher in animals with significant polymyositis antibody titers of (26125 ± 2164, 4.5 ± 1.2 cysts per section) and active myonecrosis than animals with incidental rhabdomyositis antibody titers of (7612 ± 1042, 1.7 ± 0.82 cysts per section). The presented findings suggest that S. neurona infection and immune-mediated mechanisms could be associated with significant polyphasic rhabdomyositis in CSLs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-629
Number of pages11
JournalVeterinary pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • California sea lions
  • Sarcocystis neurona
  • Zalophus californianus
  • marine mammals
  • myositis
  • protozoal disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)

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