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Short-term culture adaptation of Toxoplasma gondii archetypal II and III field isolates affects cystogenic capabilities and modifies virulence in mice.

Most Toxoplasma gondii research has been carried out using strains maintained in the laboratory for long periods of time. Long-term passage in mice or cell culture influences T. gondii phenotypic traits such as the capability to produce oocysts in cats and virulence in mice. In this work, we investigated the effect of cell culture adaptation in the short term for recently obtained type II (TgShSp1 (Genotype ToxoDB#3), TgShSp2 (#1), TgShSp3 (#3) and TgShSp16 (#3)) and type III (#2) isolates (TgShSp24 and TgPigSp1). With this purpose, spontaneous and alkaline stress-induced cyst formation in Vero cells during 40 passages, from passage 10 (p10) to 50 (p50), and isolate virulence at p10 versus p50 were studied using a harmonized bioassay method in Swiss/CD1 mice. Toxoplasma gondii cell culture maintenance showed a drastic loss of spontaneous and induced production of mature cysts after ≈ 25-30 passages. The TgShSp1, TgShSp16 and TgShSp24 isolates failed to generate spontaneously formed mature cysts at p50. Limited cyst formation was associated with an increase in parasite growth and a shorter lytic cycle. In vitro maintenance also modified T. gondii virulence in mice at p50 with events of exacerbation, increasing cumulative morbidity for TgShSp2 and TgShSp3 isolates and mortality for TgShSp24 and TgPigSp1 isolates, or attenuation, with absence of mortality and severe clinical signs for TgShSp16, and better control of the infection with the lowest parasite and cyst burdens in lungs and brain for the TgShSp1 isolate. The present findings show deep changes in relevant phenotypic traits in laboratory-adapted T. gondii isolates and open new discussion about their use for inferring keys to parasite biology and virulence.

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