Kept in continuous in vitro culture, the protozoan parasite Theileria annulata gradually loses virulence when inoculated into cattle. These attenuated cell lines form the basis of the in vitro live vaccines which have been used successfully to control tropical theileriosis in several endemic regions. In the study reported here, events occurring during in vitro culture of an Indian (Hisar) cell line, which may be associated with the reduction in virulence, have been investigated. Hybridization with two polymorphic DNA probes following Southern blotting showed that selection of particular parasite genotypes occurs very rapidly with culture; a novel hybridization pattern is observed with both probes after 50–100 passages in vitro. In addition to this selection process, immunofluorescence studies using a monoclonal antibody which specifically recognizes virulent T. annulata revealed alterations in antibody reactivity following in vitro culture. This loss of reactivity was observed in three cloned cell lines derived from the early, virulent Hisar line and implies that phenotypic changes resulting from alterations to parasite gene expression are taking place during the attenuation process. When considered with the results from in vivo infections with serial passages of this cell line, it can be proposed that both altered gene expression and selection may be involved in the loss of pathogenicity of T. annulat aduring continuous in vitro culture.
Experimental Parasitology (1996) 83 (1) 125-133 [doi:10.1006/expr.1996.0056]