a1 Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Edinburgh EH26 OPZ
Congenital infection with Toxoplasma gondii is an important cause of abortion in sheep worldwide. The cat is the definitive host of the parasite, and infected cats may shed millions of oocysts in their faeces resulting in extensive environmental contamination and an important source of infection for grazing herbivorous animals. Studies looking at development of specific antibodies in sheep, as an indicator of exposure to T. gondii, have shown that there is an increase in seroprevalence associated with age indicating that most infections in sheep occur following birth. The stage of gestation when transplacental transmission of T. gondii to the developing foetus occurs is critical in determining the clinical outcome. The importance of endogenous transplacental transmission in persistently infected ewes and its clinical importance is a subject of current debate. Ewes infected prior to mating develop immune responses that help protect against disease in a subsequent pregnancy and also against experimental challenge administered during pregnancy. Both innate and adaptive immune responses are activated following T. gondii infection and experiments involving the chronic cannulation of peripheral lymph nodes in sheep have allowed the dynamics of the immune responses to be analysed in real time. A live vaccine, Toxovax® is the only commercially available vaccine worldwide to protect against congenital toxoplasmosis.
(Received June 18 2009)
(Revised October 13 2009)
(Accepted October 13 2009)