In the present study, we investigated the effects of protease pretreatments of host erythrocytes (RBC) on the in vitro growth of bovine Babesia parasites (Babesia bovis and B. bigemina) and equine Babesia parasites (B. equi and B. caballi). The selected proteases, trypsin and chymotrypsin, clearly modified several membrane proteins of both bovine and equine RBC, as demonstrated by SDS-PAGE analysis; however, the protease treatments also modified the sialic acid content exclusively in bovine RBC, as demonstrated by lectin blot analysis. An in vitro growth assay using the protease-treated RBC showed that the trypsin-treated bovine RBC, but not the chymotrypsin-treated ones, significantly reduced the growth of B. bovis and B. bigemina as compared to the control. In contrast, the growth of B. equi and B. caballi was not affected by any of these proteases. Thus, the bovine, but not the equine, Babesia parasites require the trypsin-sensitive membrane (sialoglyco) proteins to infect the RBC.

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