Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 865–886 | Cite as

Thiamine deficiency in fishes: causes, consequences, and potential solutions

  • Avril M. HarderEmail author
  • William R. Ardren
  • Allison N. Evans
  • Matthew H. Futia
  • Clifford E. Kraft
  • J. Ellen Marsden
  • Catherine A. Richter
  • Jacques Rinchard
  • Donald E. Tillitt
  • Mark R. Christie


Thiamine deficiency complex (TDC) is a disorder resulting from the inability to acquire or retain thiamine (vitamin B1) and has been documented in organisms in aquatic ecosystems ranging from the Baltic Sea to the Laurentian Great Lakes. The biological mechanisms leading to TDC emergence may vary among systems, but in fishes, one common outcome is high mortality among early life stages. Here, we review the causes and consequences of thiamine deficiency in fishes and identify potential solutions. First, we examine the biochemical and physiological roles of thiamine in vertebrates and find that thiamine deficiency consistently results in impaired neurological function across diverse taxa. Next, we review natural producers of thiamine, which include bacteria, fungi, and plants, and suggest that thiamine is not currently limiting for most animal species inhabiting natural aquatic environments. A survey of historic occurrences of thiamine deficiency identifies consumption of a thiamine-degrading enzyme, thiaminase, as the primary explanation for low levels of thiamine in individuals and subsequent onset of TDC. Lastly, we review conservation and management strategies for TDC mitigation ranging from evolutionary rescue to managing for a diverse forage base. As recent evidence suggests occurrences of thiamine deficiency may be increasing in frequency, increased awareness and a better mechanistic understanding of the underlying causes associated with thiamine deficiency may help prevent further population declines.


Early mortality syndrome M74 Thiaminase Thiamine deficiency complex 



Avril Harder and Mark Christie were supported by funding from the Biological Sciences and Forestry and Natural Resources departments at Purdue University. Donald Tillitt and Cathy Richter were supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Ecosystems Mission Area.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.U. S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceEssex JunctionUSA
  3. 3.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  4. 4.Department of MicrobiologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  5. 5.Department of Environmental Science and EcologyThe College at Brockport – State University of New YorkBrockportUSA
  6. 6.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  7. 7.Rubenstein Ecosystem Science LaboratoryUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  8. 8.U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research CenterColumbiaUSA
  9. 9.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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