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Pathogenesis of ocular toxoplasmosis

Justine R Smith, Liam M Ashander, Sigrid L Arruda, Cynthia A Cordeiro, Shervi Lie, Elise Rochet, Rubens Belfort, João M Furtado
Progress in Retinal and Eye Research 2021, 81: 100882
Ocular toxoplasmosis is a retinitis -almost always accompanied by vitritis and choroiditis- caused by intraocular infection with Toxoplasma gondii. Depending on retinal location, this condition may cause substantial vision impairment. T. gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite, with both sexual and asexual life cycles, and infection is typically contracted orally by consuming encysted bradyzoites in undercooked meat, or oocysts on unwashed garden produce or in contaminated water. Presently available anti-parasitic drugs cannot eliminate T. gondii from the body. In vitro studies using T. gondii tachyzoites, and human retinal cells and tissue have provided important insights into the pathogenesis of ocular toxoplasmosis. T. gondii may cross the vascular endothelium to access human retina by at least three routes: in leukocyte taxis; as a transmigrating tachyzoite; and after infecting endothelial cells. The parasite is capable of navigating the human neuroretina, gaining access to a range of cell populations. Retinal Müller glial cells are preferred initial host cells. T. gondii infection of the retinal pigment epithelial cells alters the secretion of growth factors and induces proliferation of adjacent uninfected epithelial cells. This increases susceptibility of the cells to parasite infection, and may be the basis of the characteristic hyperpigmented toxoplasmic retinal lesion. Infected epithelial cells also generate a vigorous immunologic response, and influence the activity of leukocytes that infiltrate the retina. A range of T. gondii genotypes are associated with human ocular toxoplasmosis, and individual immunogenetics -including polymorphisms in genes encoding innate immune receptors, human leukocyte antigens and cytokines- impacts the clinical manifestations. Research into basic pathogenic mechanisms of ocular toxoplasmosis highlights the importance of prevention and suggests new biological drug targets for established disease.

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