Detection of Key Factors in the Development of Fibropapillomas in Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas); Culebra, Puerto Rico
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2010
Sam Rivera1, DVM, MS; Phillip Moore2, DVM, DACVO; Debra Moore3, DVM; Carlos E. Diez4, MS; Robert P. van Dam5, PhD; Marirosa Molina6, PhD; Corrie Brown7, DVM, PhD, DACVP
1Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, USA; 2Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA; 3Caribbean Center for Marine Studies, Lajas, Puerto Rico, USA; 4Endangered Species Office, Division of Wildlife, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA; 5Chelonia Inc., San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA; 6Ecosystems Research Division, National Exposure Research Laboratory, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Athens, GA, USA; 7Department of Veterinary Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA


Fibropapillomatosis is a disease of sea turtles characterized by the development of wart-like tumors on the skin, eyes, mouth, cloaca, and frequently fibromatous masses in visceral organs.1,2 This disease is linked to the chelonid fibropapilloma-associated herpesvirus (CFPHV).3,4 Cutaneous fibropapillomatosis in green turtles is a multifactorial neoplastic disease where an infectious agent, the environment, host immune system and possibly genetics act in synergy. The Culebra archipelago provides an ideal setting where clinical data in free-ranging animals from an endemic focus can be followed over a long term. Over the last 5 years we have been collecting health assessment data (physical examinations, hematology, plasma biochemical analysis, plasma protein electrophoresis, coelomic and ocular ultrasonograms) and testing for CFPHV via PCR in healthy and affected animals to create baseline parameters for this population. Additionally, we have surgically removed tumors from a selected group of individuals and are monitoring the effects of early surgical excision on remission rate versus spontaneous resolution of disease. These studies are performed in conjunction with ongoing population biology studies by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PR-DNER). Our goal is to create baseline parameters of health assessments, determine groups’ heterogeneity and dispersal, and provide significant insight into the pathogenesis of the disease in the wild through the use of long-term capture and release surveys, correlating clinical findings such as immune response, spontaneous tumor regression, post-surgical recurrence, and visceral metastasis with molecular pathology studies (riboprobe in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry).


This study has been funded by the Morris Animal Foundation and the Zoo Atlanta Conservation Endowment Fund. We appreciate the support of the staff of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources—PR, in the collection of specimens.

Literature Cited

1.  Balazs, G. H. 1986. Fibropapillomas in Hawaiian green turtles. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 39:1–3.

2.  Herbst, L. H. 1994. Fibropapillomatosis of marine turtles. Annual Review of Fish Disease. 4:389–425.

3.  Jacobson, E. R., Buergelt, C., Williams, B. and Harris, R. K. 1991. Herpesvirus in cutaneous fibropapillomas of the green turtle Chelonia mydas. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. 12:1–6.

4.  Lu, Y., Wang, Y., Yu, Q., Aguirre, A. A., Balazs, G. H., Nerurkar, V. R. and Yanagihara, R. 2000. Detection of herpesviral sequences in tissues of green turtles with fibropapilloma by polymerase chain reaction. Archives of Virology. 145:1885–1893.


Speaker Information
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Sam Rivera, DVM, MS
Zoo Atlanta
Atlanta, GA, USA

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