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Exp Parasitol. 1999 Sep;93(1):23-32.

Toxoplasma gondii in primary rat CNS cells: differential contribution of neurons, astrocytes, and microglial cells for the intracerebral development and stage differentiation.

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Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology, University of Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, Würzburg, 97080, Germany.


The central nervous system (CNS) of the intermediate host plays a central role in the lifelong persistence of Toxoplasma gondii as well as in the pathogenesis of congenital toxoplasmosis and reactivated infection in immunocompromised patients. In order to analyze the parasite-host interaction within the CNS, the host cell invasion, the intracellular replication, and the stage conversion from tachyzoites to bradyzoites was investigated in mixed cultures of dissociated CNS cells from cortices of Wistar rat embryos. Two days post infection (p.i.) with T. gondii tachyzoites, intracellular parasites were detected within neurons, astrocytes, and microglial cells as assessed by double immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy. Quantitative analyses revealed that approximately 10% of neurons and astrocytes were infected with T. gondii, while 30% of the microglial cells harbored intracellular parasites. However, the replication of T. gondii within microglial cells was considerably diminished, since 93% of the parasitophorous vacuoles (PV) contained only one to two parasites which often appeared degenerated. This toxoplasmacidal activity was not abrogated after treatment with NO synthase inhibitors or neutralization of IFN-gamma production. In contrast, 30% of the PV in neurons and astrocytes harbored clearly proliferating parasites with at least four to eight parasites per vacuole. Four days p.i. with tachyzoites of T. gondii, bradyzoites were detected within neurons, astrocytes, and microglial cells of untreated cell cultures. However, the majority of bradyzoite-containing vacuoles were located in neurons. Spontaneous differentiation to the bradyzoite stage was not inhibited after addition of NO synthase inhibitors or neutralization of IFN-gamma. In conclusion, our results indicate that intracerebral replication of T. gondii as well as spontaneous conversion from the tachyzoite to the bradyzoite stage is sustained predominantly by neurons and astrocytes, whereas microglial cells may effectively inhibit parasitic growth within the CNS.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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