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Int J Parasitol. 2009 Jun;39(7):837-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2008.12.001. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

Multi-locus microsatellite analysis supports the hypothesis of an autochthonous focus of Echinococcus multilocularis in northern Italy.

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  • 1Department of Infectious, Parasitic and Immunomediated Diseases, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, viale Regina Elena 299, Rome, Italy.


Echinococcus multilocularis is characterised by a wide geographical distribution, encompassing three continents (North America, Asia and Europe) yet very low genetic variability is documented. Recently, this parasite has been detected in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) circulating in an Alpine region of Italy, close to Austria. This finding raised the question as to whether an autochthonous cycle exists in Italy or whether the infected foxes originated from the neighbouring regions of Austria. Studies have shown that multi-locus microsatellite analysis can identify genomic regions carrying mutations that result in a local adaptation. We used a tandem repeated multi-locus microsatellite (EmsB) to evaluate the genetic differences amongst adult worms of E. multilocularis collected in Italy, worms from neighbouring Austria and from other European and extra-European countries. Fluorescent PCR was performed on a panel of E. multilocularis samples to assess intra-specific polymorphism. The analysis revealed four closed genotypes for Italian samples of E. multilocularis which were unique compared with the other 25 genotypes from Europe and the five genotypes from Alaska. An analysis in the Alpine watershed, comparing Italian adult worms with those from neighbouring areas in Austria, showed a unique cluster for Italian samples. This result supports the hypothesis of the presence of an autochthonous cycle of E. multilocularis in Italy. EmsB can be useful for 'tracking' the source of infection of this zoonotic parasite and developing appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the risk of human alveolar echinococcosis.

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