The region between the 28S and 18S rRNA genes, including the intergenic spacer (IGS) region and the 5S rRNA gene, from 32 strains of Toxoplasma gondii and the NC1 strain of Neospora caninum was amplified and used for DNA sequencing and/or restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. The 5S rDNA sequences from 20 strains of T. gondii were identical. The IGS region between the 5S and 18S rRNA genes (nontranscribed spacer 2 or NTS 2) showed 10 nucleotide variations. Six of the 10 variant positions correlated with the murine virulence of the strains. Intraspecific polymorphisms distinguished the virulent strains of zymodemes 5, 6, and 8 from other virulent strains (in zymodeme 1). RFLP methods (IGS-RFLP) were developed and used to characterize the virulent and avirulent patterns among 29 T. gondii strains. Sequence diversity of 19.8% was found between T. gondii and N. caninum when comparing a region of 919 bp at the 3′ end of NTS 2. The sequence variation in ribosomal IGS could therefore be a useful marker for Toxoplasma strain identification and for distinguishing N. caninum from T. gondii.

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