Toxoplasma gondii Genetic Diversity in Mediterranean Dolphins

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Toxoplasma gondii constitutes a major zoonotic agent but also has been frequently identified as an important cause of clinical disease (e.g., abortion, pneumonia, encephalitis) in wildlife; specifically, T. gondii has been associated with neurological disease in cetaceans. This study investigated the genetic diversity of T. gondii strains involved in infections in dolphins found stranded in the Mediterranean coastlines of Italy. Tissue samples from 16 dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba and Tursiops truncatus species) positive for T. gondii-DNA presence by PCR were examined by histology and subjected to further genetic characterization of strains detected by PCR-RFLP and multilocus PCR-sequencing assays. According to fully genotyped samples, the genotypes ToxoDB#3 (67%) and #2 (22%) were detected, the latter being reported for the first time in cetaceans, along with a mixed infection (11%). Subtyping by PCR-seq procedures provided evidence of common point mutations in strains from southwestern Europe. Despite evidence of T. gondii as a cause of neurological disease in dolphins, sources of infections are difficult to identify since they are long-living animals and some species have vast migration areas with multiple chances of infection. Finally, the genetic diversity of T. gondii found in the dolphins studied in the Mediterranean coastlines of Italy reflects the main genotypes circulating inland in the European continent.