Sarcocystis neurona has become recognized as the major causative agent of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) in the Americas. At least 3 pathogenic species of Sarcocystis, including S. neurona, can be isolated from opossums. Methods are needed to ascertain whether these isolates are viable and capable of causing infections. In this study, the nuclear stain propidium iodide (PI) was used to differentiate between live (viable) and heat-killed (nonviable) S. neurona sporocysts. PI was excluded by live sporocysts but penetrated compromised sporocyst membrane and stained sporozoite nuclei of dead sporocysts. After live and dead sporocysts were mixed at various ratios, the number of unstained sporocysts detected after the staining procedure correlated significantly (r2 = 0.9978) with the expected numbers of live sporocysts. Sporocyst mixtures were also assayed for in vitro excystation and development in tissue cultures. The correlation between the percentage of plaques formed in tissue cultures and the percentage of expected infectious (live) sporocysts in each mixture was r2 = 0.6712. By analysis of variance, no statistically significant difference was measured between the percentage of viable sporocysts and the percentage of infectious sporocysts (P = 0.3902) in each mixture. In addition, there was evidence of a relation between PI impermeability of sporocysts and animal infectivity. These results suggest that the PI dye–exclusion technique can be a useful tool in identifying viability and potential infectivity of S. neurona sporocysts and in differentiating between viable and nonviable sporocysts.

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