Diversity of Toxoplasma gondii strains shaped by commensal communities of small mammals
Commensal rodent species are key reservoirs for Toxoplasma gondii in the domestic environment. In rodents, different T. gondii strains show variable patterns of virulence according to host species. Toxoplasma gondii strains causing non-lethal chronic infections in local hosts will be more likely to persist in a given environment, but few studies have addressed the possible role of these interactions in shaping the T. gondii population structure. In addition, the absence of validated techniques for upstream detection of T. gondii chronic infection in wild rodents hinders exploration of this issue under natural conditions. In this study, we took advantage of an extensive survey of commensal small mammals in three coastal localities of Senegal, with a species assemblage constituted of both native African species and invasive species. We tested 828 individuals for T. gondii chronic infection using the modified agglutination test (MAT) for antibody detection in serum samples and a quantitative PCR assay for detection of T. gondii DNA in brain samples. The infecting T. gondii strains were genotyped whenever possible by the analysis of 15 microsatellite markers. We found (i) a very poor concordance between molecular detection and serology in the invasive house mouse, (ii) significantly different levels of prevalence by species and (iii) the autochthonous T. gondii Africa 1 lineage strains, which are lethal for laboratory mice, only in the native African species of commensal small mammals. Overall, this study highlights the need to reconsider the use of MAT serology in natural populations of house mice and provides the first known data about T. gondii genetic diversity in invasive and native species of small mammals from Africa. In light of these results, we discuss the role of invasive and native species, with their variable adaptations to different T. gondii strains, in shaping the spatial structure of T. gondii genetic diversity in Africa.