Abstract

Wild rodents such as Peromyscus spp. are intermediate hosts for the zoonotic ascarid Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), and previous studies indicate Peromyscus leucopus (white-footed mouse) likely serves an important role in parasite ecology. Natural infections have been sporadically identified in a few Peromyscus spp., but no data are available on differences in susceptibility among the many other species. We compared survival and infection dynamics of B. procyonis in 4 species (P. leucopus, Peromyscus maniculatus [deer mouse], Peromyscus californicus [California mouse], Peromyscus polionotus [Oldfield mouse]) from regions of varying habitat types as well as B. procyonis prevalence in raccoons. Six captive-bred mice of each species were inoculated per os with 1 of 3 biologically-relevant doses of embryonated B. procyonis eggs (∼10, ∼50, or ∼500). Animals were monitored twice daily for clinical signs and behavioral abnormalities and were euthanized at the onset of neurological signs or extensive (≥20%) weight loss, or at 45 days post-infection if no disease developed. Larvae were counted in the brain via microscopic examination and in skeletal muscle and visceral organs via artificial digestion. In the high-dose group, all but 1 mouse developed severe neurologic disease and were euthanized. In the medium-dose group, survival was variable and ranged from 33–85% across species. Little to no disease was observed in the low-dose group, although 1 P. maniculatus developed disease and was euthanized. Survival analysis reveals P. leucopus had a longer time until clinical disease onset versus the other species, which did not differ significantly from each other. Interestingly, larval recovery relative to dose was nearly identical across species and doses; however, larvae were differentially distributed in skeletal muscle, visceral organs, and brain among species. These data indicate that P. leucopus may be more resilient toward severe baylisascariasis compared to the other species and that even closely-related rodents may experience differential mortality. This variation in tolerance may have ecological implications for the different species as B. procyonis intermediate hosts, although more work is needed to put these experimental findings into context.

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