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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Dec 9;94(25):13955-60.

A dichotomous role for nitric oxide during acute Toxoplasma gondii infection in mice.

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  • 1Departments of Medicine, Pathology, and Microbiology, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Production of nitric oxide by macrophages is believed to be an important microbicidal mechanism for a variety of intracellular pathogens, including Toxoplasma gondii. Mice with a targeted disruption of the inducible nitric oxide synthase gene (iNOS) were infected orally with T. gondii tissue cysts. Time to death was prolonged compared with parental controls. Histologic analysis of tissue from infected mice showed scattered small foci of inflammation with parasites in various tissues of iNOS-/- mice, whereas tissue from the parental C57BL/6 mice had more extensive tissue inflammation with few visible parasites. In particular, extensive ulceration and necrosis of distal small intestine and fatty degeneration of the liver was seen in the parental mice at day 7 postinfection, as compared with the iNOS-/- mice where these tissues appeared normal. Serum interferon gamma and tumor necrosis factor alpha levels postinfection were equally elevated in both mouse strains. Treatment of the parental mice with a NO synthase inhibitor, aminoguanidine, prevented early death in these mice as well as the hepatic degeneration and small bowel necrosis seen in acutely infected control parentals. These findings indicate that NO production during acute infection with T. gondii can kill intracellular parasites but can be detrimental, even lethal, to the host.

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