Abstract

Here, we report a new species, Sarcocystis pantherophisi n. sp., with the Eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) as natural definitive host and the interferon gamma gene knockout (KO) mouse as the experimental intermediate host. Sporocysts (n = 15) from intestinal contents of the snake were 10.8 × 8.9 μm. Sporocysts were orally infective to KO mice but not to laboratory-raised albino outbred house mice (Mus musculus). The interferon gamma KO mice developed schizont-associated neurological signs, and schizonts were cultivated in vitro from the brain. Mature sarcocysts were found in skeletal muscles of KO mice examined 41 days postinoculation (PI). Sarcocysts were slender, up to 70 μm wide and up to 3.5 mm long. By light microscopy, sarcocysts appeared thin-walled (<1 μm) without projections. By transmission electron microscopy, the sarcocyst wall was a variant of “type 1” (type 1i, new designation). The parasitophorous vacuolar membrane (pvm) had approximately 100-nm-wide × 100-nm-long bleb-like evaginations interspersed with 100-nm-wide × 650-nm-long elongated protrusions at irregular distances, and invaginations into the ground substance layer (gs) for a very short distance (6 nm). The gs was smooth, up to 500 nm thick, without tubules, and contained a few vesicles. Longitudinally cut bradyzoites at 54 days PI were banana-shaped, 7.8 × 2.2 μm (n = 5). Molecular characterization using 18S rRNA, 28S rRNA, ITS-1, and cox1 genes indicated a close relationship with other Sarcocystis parasites that have snake–rodent life cycles. The parasite in the present study was molecularly and biologically similar to a previously reported isolate (designated earlier as Sarcocystis sp. ex Pantherophis alleghaniensis) from P. alleghaniensis, and it was structurally different from other Sarcocystis species so far described.

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