Neospora caninum : studies toward isolation in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Veterinary Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Background: Neospora caninum is a parasite that causes disease, largely in cattle and dogs. It is a disease of significant interest within New Zealand due to its association with bovine abortion. The economic impact of bovine abortion justifies the development of a bovine vaccine against N. caninum.
Aim: To develop and optimise diagnostic procedures for the detection of Neospora from a variety of blood and tissue samples and to isolate a New Zealand strain of Neospora caninum.
Methods: A local strain of Toxoplasma gondii and an imported Neospora caninum strain, Nc-Liverpool, were used to optimise tachyzoite growing conditions in bovine endothelial (BE) cells and Vero host cell cultures. A serum study using 112 tissue culture flasks was performed to determine whether foetal bovine serum or horse serum supplemented media provided the optimal growing conditions for Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites. Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites were also used to determine the optimal growth period between passage, and harvest for cryopreservation and cryopreservation conditions. Percoll gradients were also tested using Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites.
A known Neospora positive canine sample and murine tissues infected with Toxoplasma, were used during the development of the immunohistochemical diagnostic technique. Antibody concentrations and incubation temperatures were tested to reduce cross-reactivity and increase specific stain intensity. Immunohistochemistry was performed on sections of all tissue samples used for N. caninum isolation and experimentally infected murine tissue.
Several PCR techniques were developed, the final PCR used being a combination of the different techniques, which produced a 250kb band. PCR-3 used the NF6/GA1 primer combination for Neospora detection and TF6/GA1 for Toxoplasma detection, additional Mg2+ and an annealing temperature of 55°C were required. Whole tissue was processed via DNA elution whereas cell culture and Percoll purified tachyzoites were used following crude lysis techniques. All bovine and canine tissues used for parasite isolation as well as all experimentally infected mouse tissues were tested for N. caninum using PCR.
An immunoblot technique was developed for the detection of N. caninum antibodies in murine blood samples. Lysed Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites were used as antigen with varied results. The primary and secondary antibodies were commercially available and used at concentrations of 1:1,000 and 1:25,000 respectively.
BALB/c and CF1 mice were experimentally infected with Toxoplasma gondii and Nc-Liverpool. Forty female BALB/c and 40 female CF1 mice were used in 2 studies to determine the optimal Nc-Liverpool inoculation dose and immunosuppression requirements. Mice were immunosuppressed with 2.5mg of methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) and Nc-Liverpool inoculation ranged from 1.3x106 to 5x103 tachyzoites. Upon death, the brain and blood was harvested from the mouse carcases.
Attempts were made to isolate a New Zealand strain of N. caninum from bovine and canine central nervous system (CNS) tissue, and to maintain the parasites in cell culture and by small animal passage, in order to attenuate the parasite strain for use as a live large animal vaccine. Twenty one bovine tissue samples were used for N. caninum isolation attempts, 18 of which were positive for Neospora antibodies using a commercial IFAT. Isolation tissues were purified using a 30% Percoll
gradient and inoculated onto 8 cell culture flasks and into 8 immunosuppressed mice (BALB/c and CF1).
Results: Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites were found to be viable when grown at 37°C in antibiotic-MEM supplemented with either FBS or ES and grew optimally in FBS despite Neospora antibodies being detected using an IFAT. Passaging cultures at approx. 4 day intervals resulted in the greatest parasite growth. However, cryopreserved parasites should be harvested 2 days post inoculation (PI) for optimal viability. Viable parasites could be isolated using a 30% Percoll gradient and centrifuged at 2,700 x g (3,400 rpm) in a bucket centrifuge for 10 minutes.
Tissue cysts could be detected using immunohistochemistry but some degree of cross reaction remained despite optimisation. Cysts were not found in tissues used for isolation attempts or in mouse brains following inoculation with Nc-Liverpool, however cysts were commonly found in mice experimentally infected with T. gondii tachyzoites.
PCR-3 was successfully used to detect N. caninum and T. gondii infected tissue and tachyzoites from tissue culture. PCR-3 could detect N. caninum DNA in the brain tissue of 9/24 mice experimentally infected with Nc-Liverpool, even though most mice were culled within 1 week.
Although production of N. caninum antigen was only moderately successful, N. caninum antibody detection in mouse blood using one specific antigen batch was reliable and specific. The immunoblot could only detect N. caninum antibody approximately 14 days PI, but was sensitive enough to detect 100% of mice experimentally infected with Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites. PCR-3 strongly correlated with the immunoblot results from 14 days PI.
BALB/c mice were found to be far more sensitive to Nc-Liverpool than CF1 mice and developed severe disease at concentrations of approximately 1x106 Nc-Liverpool tachyzoites. Neither BALB/c nor CF1 mice developed peritoneal exudate, irrespective of the parasite inoculation concentration.
Despite Neospora DNA being present in the brains of experimentally infected mice, re-isolation and continuous parasite passage from the brains could not be achieved. No mice experimentally infected with either Nc-Liverpool or isolation attempts were found to have brain cysts when tested using immunohistochemistry. Only 1 mouse inoculated with bovine isolation material was found to have a Neospora positive PCR.
Through the detection of DNA, antigens and antibodies, parasites were determined to have been present in 10 of the 18 IFAT positive bovine isolation samples, indicating that 55% of calves born to seropositive dams were infected with N. caninum.
However, despite numerous attempts to isolate Neospora parasites from naturally infected canine and bovine tissue and culturing using the optimised Nc-Liverpool technique, maintenance of a live culture of a New Zealand strain of N. caninum could not be established.
Conclusions: Findings from this study could be used to assist in the maintenance of Neospora caninum and Toxoplasma gondii parasite strains and for detection or diagnosis of these parasites in host tissues.