In vivo and in vitro models show unexpected degrees of virulence among Toxoplasma gondii type II and III isolates from sheep

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Toxoplasma gondii is an important zoonotic agent with high genetic diversity, complex epidemiology, and variable clinical outcomes in animals and humans. In veterinary medicine, this apicomplexan parasite is considered one of the main infectious agents responsible for reproductive failure in small ruminants worldwide. The aim of this study was to phenotypically characterize 10 Spanish T. gondii isolates recently obtained from sheep in a normalized mouse model and in an ovine trophoblast cell line (AH-1) as infection target cells. The panel of isolates met selection criteria regarding such parameters as genetic diversity [types II (ToxoDB #1 and #3) and III (#2)], geographical location, and sample of origin (aborted foetal brain tissues or adult sheep myocardium). Evaluations of in vivo mortality, morbidity, parasite burden and histopathology were performed. Important variations between isolates were observed, although all isolates were classified as “nonvirulent” (< 30% cumulative mortality). The isolates TgShSp16 (#3) and TgShSp24 (#2) presented higher degrees of virulence. Significant differences were found in terms of in vitro invasion rates and tachyzoite yield at 72 h post-inoculation (hpi) between TgShSp1 and TgShSp24 isolates, which exhibited the lowest and highest rates, respectively. The study of the CS3, ROP18 and ROP5 loci allelic profiles revealed only type III alleles in ToxoDB #2 isolates and type II alleles in the #1 and #3 isolates included. We concluded that there are relevant intra- and inter-genotype virulence differences in Spanish T. gondii isolates, which could not be inferred by genetic characterization using currently described molecular markers.
Author's Contributions MF-E, RC-B, JR-C, EC-F, and LO-M conceived and designed the laboratory tests. MF-E, RC-B, RV, and JB performed experiments. MF-E, RC-B, RV, JR-C, and EC-F analysed the data. LO-M, EC-F, and JB contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools. MF-E, RC-B, JR-C, JB, EC-F, and LO-M drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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Fernández-Escobar, M., Calero-Bernal, R., Regidor-Cerrillo, J. et al. In vivo and in vitro models show unexpected degrees of virulence among Toxoplasma gondii type II and III isolates from sheep. Vet Res 52, 82 (2021).