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As keystone species, sea stars serve to maintain biodiversity and species distribution through trophic level interactions in marine ecosystems. Recently, Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) has caused widespread mass mortality in several sea star species from the Pacific Coast of the United States of America (USA) and Asterias forbesi on the Atlantic Coast. A densovirus, named Sea Star associated Densovirus (SSaDV), has been associated with the wasting disease in Pacific Coast sea stars, and limited samples of A. forbesi. The goal of this research is to examine the pathogenesis of SSWD in A. forbesi on the Atlantic Coast of the USA and to determine if SSaDV is associated with the wasting disease in this species. Histological examination of A. forbesi tissues affected with SSWD showed cuticle loss, vacuolation and necrosis of epidermal cells, and oedema of the dermis, but no consistent evidence indicating the cause of the lesions. Challenge experiments by cohabitation and immersion in infected water suggest that the cause of SSWD is viral in nature, as filtration (0.22 μm) of water from tanks with sea stars exhibiting SSWD did not prevent the transmission and progression of the disease. Death of challenged sea stars occurred 7–10 d after exposure to infected water or sea stars, and the infectivity crossed species (A. forbesi and Pateria miniata) with equal penetrance. Of the 48 stars tested by quantitative real time PCR, 29 (60%) were positive for the SSaDV VP1 gene. These stars represent field-collected sea stars from all geographical regions (South Carolina to Maine) in 2012–2015, as well as stars exposed to infected stars or water from affected tanks. However, a clear association between the presence of SSaDV and SSWD signs in experimental and field-collected A. forbesi was not found in this study.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.