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Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2009 Mar;104(2):179-84.

Expansion of host range as a driving force in the evolution of Toxoplasma.

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  • Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305-5124, USA. john.boothroyd@stanford.edu


The apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii is unusual in being able to infect almost any cell from almost any warm-blooded animal it encounters. This extraordinary host-range contrasts with its far more particular cousins such as the various species of the malaria parasite Plasmodium where each species of parasite has a single genus or even species of host that it can infect. Genetic and genomic studies have revealed a key role for a number of gene families in how Toxoplasma invades a host cell, modulates gene expression of that cell and successfully evades the resulting immune response. In this review, I will explore the hypothesis that a combination of sexual recombination and expansion of host range may be the major driving forces in the evolution of some of these gene families and the specific genes they encompass. These ideas stem from results and thoughts published by several labs in the last few years but especially recent papers on the role of different forms of rhoptry proteins in the relative virulence of F1 Toxoplasma progeny in a particular host species (mice).

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