Journal of aquatic animal health

The effect of tricaine on use of the fluorescein test for detecting skin and corneal ulcers in fish.

PMID 18783129


Fluorescein has been used for rapid and sensitive detection of fish skin and corneal ulceration. Effective use of the fluorescein test requires knowledge of conditions that might cause misleading interpretations or otherwise interfere with test reliability. Examination of fish health and the clinical workup often require tricaine as one of the most commonly used anesthetics. However, tricaine may interfere with correct interpretation of the fluorescein test and might also cause significant fish injury. The effects of tricaine exposure sequence on the fidelity of the fluorescein test was studied in Pacific halibut Hippoglossus stenolepis, walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma, and northern rock soles Lepidopsetta polyxystra by examining the fluorescence of experimentally induced epidermal wounding. Tricaine can quench fluorescence that is emitted by fluorescein retained in skin ulcers, causing a false-negative reaction. Thus, for the fluorescein test to work properly, it is important to avoid the exposure of fluorescein-treated and rinsed ulcers to tricaine. The effects of exposure to buffered versus unbuffered tricaine on epidermal and corneal integrity were studied in Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus and channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus subjected to the fluorescein test and histological examination. Fluorescein could detect not only ulcers but also areas with only a partial loss of epithelium (i.e., erosion). The use of unbuffered tricaine to anesthetize these fish caused serious epidermal and corneal damage. If fish are euthanized with unbuffered tricaine for clinical workup, this severe epidermal or corneal damage could be misinterpreted as an antemortem lesion, leading to misdiagnosis. Even in water with alkalinity exceeding 50 mg/L as CaCO3, it would seem prudent to always buffer tricaine with sodium bicarbonate to prevent a pH change that might lead to iatrogenic effects from unbuffered tricaine. Thus, current general recommendations suggesting that tricaine does not need to be buffered in waters with alkalinity greater than 50 mg/L might need to be modified.