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Infect Immun. Nov 1993; 61(11): 4801–4813.
PMCID: PMC281237

Genetic stability and diversity of Pneumocystis carinii infecting rat colonies.


There is increasing molecular and antigenic evidence that Pneumocystis carinii organisms isolated from humans, ferrets, and rats are different species. In contrast, little is known about the extent of genetic diversity among P. carinii strains found within a single mammalian species. In the present study, electrophoretic karyotypes were obtained from P. carinii prepared from 10 chronically immunosuppressed rat colonies to investigate diversity at the chromosomal level. Most organism preparations produced patterns with 13 to 15 bands, but as many as 24 bands were observed in a few preparations. All bands separated between 700 and 300 kbp. Four distinct karyotype forms emerged from among the 13- to 15-band karyotypes of the 10 colonies sampled. Form 1 was shared by five rat strains from two vendors; form 2 was shared by two rat strains from the same vendor; and forms 3 and 4 were unique to their vendor colonies. Within a given rat colony, most rats harbored the same P. carinii karyotype. A survey of selected rat colonies showed that the karyotype within a vendor colony could remain stable over a period of 2 to 3 years. Hybridization of the blotted karyotypes with a repetitive DNA element isolated from rat-derived P. carinii and with single-copy gene probes showed that every chromosome in the karyotypes contained some repetitive DNA, and there was a general size concordance among the chromosomes carrying the unique gene loci. Differences in gene sequences, electrophoretic karyotypes, and hybridization profiles suggested that the immunosuppressed rats were infected by genetically distinct P. carinii strains. A provisional system of nomenclature for P. carinii that will permit differentiation of P. carinii organisms from the same mammalian host is discussed. These data show that all rats were not infected by a single type of P. carinii, that pulsed-field gradient electrophoresis can detect sufficient genetic diversity among the organism preparations to allow for characterization of the organisms, and that the genome of the organism within the rat host is relatively stable over time.

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