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Mote Research

Marine Immunology

Today's Research for Tomorrow's Oceans

Dr. Catherine Walsh

Senior Scientist & Program Manager

941-388-4441, ext 302

Research in the Marine Immunology Program focuses on basic and applied research on the health and
immune systems of marine vertebrates, including cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, and rays), Florida
manatees, and sea turtles. Basic immunological research with marine species explores how immune
systems from different species and function and has the potential to lead to novel insights into the
evolution of the immune system.

Current research projects explore how certain environmental stressors, such as red tide toxins, or
brevetoxins, can impact the immune health of marine species. Such research is critical for endangered
and threatened species such as manatees and sea turtles as compromised immune systems can impact
a species’ overall ability to survive and reproduce in the wild. Other project areas include research on
cytotoxic factors produced by cells of the shark immune system, that have the potential to benefit human
health, research on bioactivity of stingray venom, and development of cell lines from marine finfish and

Dr. Walsh also serves as Quality Assurance Officer and coordinates NSF REU program.


Current Projects

  • Cytotoxic factors produced by cell cultures of the shark epigonal organ. The goal of this project is to
    isolate and characterize bioactive factors produced by short-term cultures of shark epigonal cells. These
    immune cell derived factors have demonstrated inhibitory activity against a variety of human tumor cell
    lines. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Carl Luer of Mote’s Marine Biomedical Program
  • Bioactivity of stingray venom. The goal of this project is to isolate venom proteins and characterize their
    cytotoxic activity against muscle and skin cells, and various tumor cell lines. This project is in
    collaboration with Dr. Carl Luer of Mote’s Marine Biomedical Program, and Dr. Craig Doupnik (USF).
  • Effects of red tide toxins on manatee and sea turtle health. Current focus of this project is to identify
    biomarkers of red tide toxin exposure in animals naturally exposed to brevetoxins in their habitat, using a
    proteomics approach. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Kelly Rein (FGCU).
  • Development of cell lines from marine finfish and invertebrates. The goal of this project is to develop
    continuously growing cell lines from stem cell isolated from fertilized embryos. This project is in
    collaboration with Dr. Nicole Rhody (Mote Aquaculture), Dr. Andrea Tarnecki (Auburn University), and Dr.
    Sahar Mejri (FAU/NOFIMA).

Explore Biomedical & Technology Development programs at Mote

Additional Program Information

Doupnik CA, Luer CA, Walsh CJ, Restivo J, Brick JX. 2024. Bioactive properties of venoms isolated from whiptail stingrays and the search for molecular mechanisms and targets. Pharmaceuticals. 17:488.

Greene W, B Chan, E Bromage, J Gross, K Kortright, C Walsh, S Forrest, L Byrd, G Perry, A Stamper. 2021. The use of bacteriophages for the treatment of a case of chronic systemic cutaneous ulcerate disease (SCUD) in a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). J Aquatic Animal Health 33(3): 139-154. Doi:10.1002/aah.10130

Lazensky R, Hunter ME, Moraga Amador D, Al-Khedery B, Yu F, Walsh C, Gitzendanner MA, Tripp K, Walsh MT, Denslow ND. 2020. Investigating the gene expression profiles of rehabilitated Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) following red tide exposure PLoS One. 15(7):e0234150

Walsh CJ, Cocilova C, Restivo J, Flewelling L, Milton S. 2019. Immune function in Trachemys scripta following exposure to a predominant brevetoxin congener, PbTx-3, as a model for potential health impacts for sea turtles naturally exposed to brevetoxins. Ecotoxicology. 28(9):1085-1104.

Luer, CA, CJ Walsh. 2018. Potential Human Health Applications from Marine Biomedical Research with Elasmobranch Fishes. Fishes. 3:47; doi.10.3390/fishes3040047.

Tarnecki, AM, NR Rhody, CJ Walsh. 2018. Health characteristics and blood bacterial assemblages of healthy captive red drum: Implications for aquaculture and fish health management. Journal of Aquatic Animal Health.  30(4): 339-353. doi: 10.1002/aah.10047

Perrault JP, NI Stacy, CR Mott, S Hirsch, JC Gorham, AF Lehner, JP Buchweitz, MJ Bresette, CJ Walsh. 2017. Potential effects of brevetoxins and toxic elements on various health variables in Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) and green (Chelonia mydas) sea turtles after a red tide bloom event. Science of the Total Environment 605-606:967-979.

Perrault JP, N Stacy, A Lehner, S Poor, J Buchweitz, C Walsh. 2017. Toxic elements, hematology, plasma biochemistry, and protein electrophoresis in nesting loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from Casey Key, Florida: a possible link to immunosuppression? Environmental Pollution. 231:1398-1411.

Ritchie KB, M Schwarz, J Mueller, VA Lapacek, D Merselis, CJ Walsh, CA Luer. 2017. Survey of Antibiotic-producing Bacteria Associated with the Epidermal Mucus Layers of Rays and Skates. Frontiers in Microbiology.

Perrault, JP, KD Bauman, TM Greenan, PC Blum, MS Henry, CJ Walsh. 2016. Maternal transfer and sublethal immune system effects of brevetoxin exposure in nesting loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from western Florida. Aquatic Toxicology. 180:131-140.

Walsh CJ, M Butawan, J Yordy, R Ball, L Flewelling, M de Wit, RK Bonde.  2015.  Sublethal red tide toxin exposure in free-ranging manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) affects the immune system through reduced lymphocyte proliferation responses, inflammation, and oxidative stress.  Aquatic Toxicology. 161:73-84.

Perrault JR, JR Schmid, CJ Walsh, JE Yordy, AD Tucker.  2014.  Brevetoxin exposure, oxidative stress and plasma protein electrophoretic profiles in Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) in southwest Florida. Harmful Algae. 37:194-202.

Walsh CJ, CA Luer, JE Yordy, T Cantu, J Miedema, SR Leggett, B Leigh, P Adams, M Ciesla, C Bennett, AB Bodine.  2013. Epigonal conditioned media from bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, induces apoptosis in a T-cell leukemia cell line, Jurkat E6-1.  Marine Drugs.  11(9):3224-3257; doi:10:3390/md11093224. Impact Factor: 3.978

Fleming LE, B Kirkpatrick, LC Backer, CJ Walsh, K Nierenberg, J Clark, A Reich, J Hollenbeck, J Benson, YS Cheng, J Naar, R Pierce, AJ Bourdelais, WM Abraham, G Kirkpatrick, J Zaias, A Wanner, E Mendes, S Shalat, P Hoagland, W Stephan, S Watkins, T Clarke, DG Baden. 2011.  Review of Florida Red Tide and Human Health Effects. Harmful Algae. 10(2):224-233.

Walsh CJ, SR Leggett, BJ Carter, C Colle.  2010.  Effects of brevetoxin exposure on the immune system of loggerhead sea turtles. Aquatic Toxicol. 97:293-303.

Walsh CJ, SR Leggett, MS Henry, PC Blum S Osborn, RH Pierce. 2009. Cellular metabolism of brevetoxin (PbTx-2) by a monocyte cell line (U-937). Toxicon 53(1):135-145.

Walsh CJ, SR Leggett, K Strohbehn, RH Pierce, JW Sleasman. 2008. Effects of in vitro brevetoxin exposure on apoptosis and cellular metabolism in a leukemic T cell line (Jurkat). Marine Drugs  6: 291-307.

Walsh CJ, JE Stuckey, H Cox, B Smith, C Funke, J Stott, C Colle, J Gaspard, CA Manire. 2007. Production of nitric oxide by peripheral blood mononuclear cells from the Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 118(3-4):199-209.

Wyffels, JT, CA Luer, CJ Walsh, AB Bodine. 2007. In vivo exposure of clearnose skates, Raja eglanteria, to ionizing X-radiation: Acute effects on the peripheral blood, spleen, and epigonal and Leydig organs. Fish Shellfish Immunol 23(2):401-418.

Luer CA, CJ Walsh, AB Bodine, JT Wyffels. 2007. Normal embryonic development in the clearnose skate, Raja eglanteria, with experimental observations on artificial insemination. Environ Biol Fishes 80:239-255.

Walsh CJ, CA Luer, AB Bodine, CA Smith, HL Cox, DR Noyes, M Gasparetto. 2006. Elasmobranch immune cells as a source of novel tumor cell inhibitors: Implications for public health.  Integrative Comp Biol 46(6):1072-1081.

Gelsleichter J, CJ Walsh, NJ Szabo, LEL Rasmussen. 2006. Organochlorine concentrations, reproductive physiology, and immune function in unique populations of freshwater Atlantic stingrays (Dasyatis sabina) From Florida’s St. Johns River. Chemosphere 63:1506-1522.

Walsh CJ, JD Toranto, CT Gilliland, DR Noyes, AB Bodine, CA Luer. 2006. Nitric oxide production by nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and clearnose skate (Raja eglanteria) peripheral blood leucocytes. Fish Shellfish Immunol 20:40-46.

Walsh CJ, CA Luer, DR Noyes. 2005. Effects of environmental stressors on lymphocyte proliferation in the Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 103(3-4):255-264.

Wyffels JT, CJ Walsh, C.A Luer, AB Bodine. 2005. In vivo exposure of clearnose skates, Raja eglanteria, to ionizing X-radiation: Acute effects on the thymus. Dev Comp Immunol  29(4):315-331.

Anderson MK, AL Miracle, X Sun, CA Luer, CJ Walsh, EV Rothenberg, GW Litman. 2004. Evolutionary origins of lymphocytes: Ensembles of T-cell and B-cell transcriptional regulators in a cartilaginous fish. J Immunol 172:5851-5860.

Manire CA, CJ Walsh, HL Rhinehart, DE Colbert, DR Noyes, C.A Luer. 2003.  Alterations in blood and urine parameters in Florida manatees, Trichechus manatus latirostris, from simulated conditions of release following rehabilitation. Zoo Biol 22(2):103-120.

Walsh CJ, CA Luer, JT Wyffels, AB Bodine. 2002. Dexamethasone-induced apoptosis in immune cells from peripheral circulation and lymphomyeloid tissues of juvenile clearnose skates, Raja eglanteriaDev Comp Immunol 26(7):629-639.

Bossart GD, RY Ewing, M Lowe, M Sweat, SJ Decker, CJ Walsh, SJ Ghim, AB Jenson.  2002.  Viral papillomatosis in Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris). Exptl Mol Pathol 72(1):37-48.

Miracle AL, MK Anderson, RT Litman, CJ Walsh, CA Luer, EV Rothenberg, GW Litman. 2001.  Complex expression patterns of lymphocyte-specific genes during the development of cartilaginous fish implicate unique lymphoid tissues in generating an immune repertoire.  Internat Immunol 13:567-580.

Walsh CJ,  CA Luer.  1998.  Comparative phagocytic and pinocytic activities of leucocytes from peripheral blood and lymphomyeloid tissues of the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum Bonaterre) and the clearnose skate (Raja eglanteria Bosc). Fish & Shellfish Immunol  8:197-215.

Luer CA, CJ Walsh, AB Bodine, JT Wyffels, TR Scott. 1995. The elasmobranch thymus: anatomical, histological, and preliminary functional characterization. J Exp Zool 273(4):342-354.

Walsh CJ, AB Bodine, TR Scott. 1991. A co-mitogenic assay for assessing the effects of aflatoxin B1 on interleukin-1 production in bovine macrophages. Drug Dev Res 24(2):157-166.