Here, we report a new species of Sarcocystis with red-tailed hawk (RTH, Buteo jamaicensis) as the natural definitive host and IFN-γ gene knockout (KO) mice as an experimental intermediate host in which sarcocysts form in muscle. Two RTHs submitted to the Carolina Raptor Center, Huntersville, North Carolina, were euthanized because they could not be rehabilitated and released. Fully sporulated 12.5 × 9.9-μm sized sporocysts were found in intestinal scrapings of both hawks. Sporocysts were orally fed to laboratory-reared outbred Swiss Webster mice (SW, Mus musculus) and also to KO mice. The sporocysts were infective for KO mice but not for SW mice. All SW mice remained asymptomatic, and neither schizonts nor sarcocysts were found in any SW mice euthanized on days 54, 77, 103 (n = 2) or 137 post-inoculation (PI). The KO mice developed neurological signs and were necropsied between 52 to 68 days PI. Schizonts/merozoites were found in all KO mice euthanized on days 52, 55 (n = 3), 59, 61 (n = 2), 66, and 68 PI and they were confined to the brain. The predominant lesion was meningoencephalitis characterized by perivascular cuffs, granulomas, and necrosis of the neural tissue. The schizonts/merozoites were located in neural tissue and were apparently extravascular. Brain homogenates from infected KO mice were infective to KO mice by subcutaneous inoculation and when seeded on to CV-1 cells. Microscopic sarcocysts were found in skeletal muscles of 5 of 8 KO mice euthanized between 55–61 days PI. Only a few sarcocysts were detected. Sarcocysts were microscopic, up to 3.5 mm long. When viewed with light microscopy, the sarcocyst wall appeared thin (<1 μm thick) and smooth. By transmission electron microscopy, the sarcocyst wall classified as “type 1j” (new designation). Molecular characterization using 18S rRNA, 28S rRNA, ITS-1, and cox1 genes revealed a close relationship with Sarcocystis microti and Sarcocystis glareoli; both species infect birds as definitive hosts. The parasite in the present study was biologically and molecularly different from species so far described in RTHs and we therefore propose a new species name, Sarcocystis jamaicensis n. sp.
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