Neospora caninum is a parasite that infects many animal species and has tropism for various tissues, particularly the nervous system, where it generally remains in cysts. Under N. caninum infection, glial cells activate immune responses by a Th2 profile, suggesting an immunologically privileged environment that controls parasite proliferation, with neuronal preservation. In this study, we investigated the role of soluble neurotrophic factors released by glial cells on neuronal integrity during N. caninum infection in vitro. Primary cultures of rat glial cells enriched in astrocytes were infected with N. caninum tachyzoites (1:1) for 24 hr. Neuron-glia co-cultures were cultured for 24 hr with conditioned medium from glial cells infected with N. caninum (CMNc) and from uninfected cultures (control). Cell viability was determined through a 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) test; astrocyte morphology and reactivity were determined through immunocytochemistry for glial fibrillar acid protein (GFAP) and the integrity of neurons through immunocytochemistry for β-tubulin III. Expression of inflammatory cytokines and neurotrophic factors was determined through RT-qPCR. The MTT test demonstrated that 1:1 was the best parasite/host cell ratio, considering that it was enough to increase metabolism of glial cells when compared with control cultures and was not cytotoxic after 48 hr infection. N. caninum–infected glial cultures responded with astrogliosis characterized by an increase in GFAP expression and increase in IL-10 (2-fold), BDNF (1.6-fold), and NGF (1.7-fold) gene expression. In the neuron/glia co-cultures, it was observed that treatment with CMNc induced neuritis outgrowth without toxicity. Together, these results show that modulatory mechanisms by neurotrophic factors derived from glial cells, primarily astrocytes during the N. caninum infection, can favor neuroprotection.

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