Trypanosoma cruzi infections persist for the lifetime of humans and laboratory animals as either latent or pathogenic parasitism. Mice inoculated with a nonpathogenic, attenuated strain (TCC) display resistance against virulent challenge, with a strong control of parasitemia and protection against tissue lesions for more than 12 mo. Three main approaches were used to test whether protection by TCC inocula is based on a latent infection or on a “sterile” immunological memory: curative Benznidazole (Bzl) treatment, serological reactions, and detection of infection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). If resistance is maintained in the absence of infection, it should not be reduced by Bzl treatment and TCC-inoculated animals should not maintain long-term serological or PCR reactivity. The Bzl treatment after TCC inoculations did not reduce, after periods of up to 420 days, TCC-induced resistance to challenge. But TCC inocula given during Bzl treatment conferred short-term, but not long-term, protection. Maintenance of high antibody levels and protection were better in the virulent Tulahuen (TUL) strain than in the attenuated TCC strain infections, and trypomastigote inocula of either strain were better inducers of antibodies and resistance than epimastigotes. PCR detection of T. cruzi DNA was positive in almost all TUL strain–inoculated animals and negative in immunocompetent animals inoculated with TCC epimastigotes, although high numbers of TCC trypomastigotes produced persistent PCR signals of infection in newborn BALB mice. Thus, 2 polar models were developed, where latent infection by TCC was either demonstrated or excluded. In both, resistance to virulent challenge was maintained during long periods. But late declination of antibody titers (>200 days) and resistance to challenge (>350 days) was observed in animals displaying clearance of all signals of infection.

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