Biological and molecular characteristics of a raccoon isolate of Trypanosoma cruzi (R36) were compared with those of a known virulent strain (Brazil). Included in the characterization were growth rate in liver infusion tryptose medium, infectivity for murine fibroblasts, intracellular amastigote replication and trypomastigote release rates, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) profiling of the mini-exon gene, isoenzyme and random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) profiles, and in vivo virulence for C3H/HeJ mice. Similar growth curves were noted for both strains; however, infectivity and rates of intracellular amastigote replication and trypomastigote release were significantly lower for the R36 isolate than for the Brazil strain. To determine virulence, C3H/HeJ mice were exposed intraperitoneally to the R36 isolate. No parasite was observed in blood by direct examination or in tissues by histology; however, T. cruzi was detected by PCR in tissues (quadriceps and spleen) at 21 days postinfection. Analyses of the mini-exon gene, isoenzyme, and RAPD profiles indicate that R36 is in the T. cruzi II group and the Brazil strain is in the T. cruzi I group. Although infectivity and virulence of the raccoon isolate were lower than those for the Brazil strain, autochthonous infections in the United States have been reported, which suggests the need for further study of local T. cruzi isolates.

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