Burden and regional distribution of Toxoplasma gondii cysts in the brain of COBB 500 broiler chickens following chronic infection with 76K strain
Toxoplasmosis is a worldwide zoonosis caused by the obligate intracellular apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). Chickens are ground-feeders and represent, especially if free-range, important intermediate hosts in the epidemiology of toxoplasmosis and are used as sentinels of environmental contamination with T. gondii oocysts. Until now, little is known about the burden and regional distribution of T. gondii cysts in the chicken brain. It was therefore the aim of this study to investigate the abundance and specific distribution of T. gondii cysts within the chicken brain following chronic infection with a type II strain (76 K) of T. gondii. A total of 29 chickens were included in the study and divided into control group (n = 9) and two different infection groups, a low dose (n = 10) and a high dose (n = 10) group, which were orally inoculated with 1,500 or 150,000 T. gondii oocysts per animal, respectively. Seroconversion was detected in the majority of chickens of the high dose group, but not in the animals of the low dose and the control group. Moreover, T. gondii DNA was detected most frequently in the brain and more frequently in the heart than in liver, spleen, thigh and pectoral muscle using qPCR analysis. The number of T. gondii cysts, quantified in the chicken brain using histological analysis, seems to be considerably lower as compared to studies in rodents, which might explain why T. gondii infected chickens very rarely, if at all, develop neurological deficits. Similar to observations in mice, in which no lateralisation for T. gondii cysts was reported, T. gondii cysts were distributed nearly equally between the left and right chicken brain hemispheres. When different brain regions (fore-, mid- and hindbrain) were compared, all T. gondii cysts were located in the forebrain with the overwhelming majority of these cysts being present in the telencephalic pallium and subpallium. More studies including different strains and higher doses of T. gondii are needed in order to precisely evaluate its cyst burden and regional distribution in the chicken brain. Together, our findings provide insights into the course of T. gondii infection in chickens and are important to understand the differences of chronic T. gondii infection in the chicken and mammalian brain.