Although single-color flow cytometry has been shown to be more sensitive than fluorescence microscopy for the quantification of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts, this method has not been optimized. Monoclonal antibody OW50, specific to the cell wall of oocysts, was conjugated to superparamagnetic particles, to fluorescein isothiocyanate, and to r-phycoerythrin. The oocysts were then double stained with the fluorochrome-labeled OW50 and were placed in tubes with known numbers of highly fluorescent polystyrene beads, allowing quantification of the oocysts without dependence on acquired sample volume by flow cytometry. Data from 2-color flow cytometry using logical gating of the oocysts and beads showed a linear relationship between dilutions of a purified oocyst suspension and the mean numbers of oocysts detected (r2 = 1.00). An average of 15 purified oocysts/ml were counted in a dilution with a theoretical concentration of 12 oocysts/ml. Known numbers of purified oocysts were seeded into normal mouse fecal specimens, captured by OW50-labeled immunomagnetic particles, eluted with 5% potassium dichromate at low pH, and double stained with fluorochrome-labeled OW50. By flow cytometry, the mean recovery was 43.1% (±8.3%), and as few as 133 oocysts were detected. The captured and eluted oocysts were infective in neonatal BALB/c mice. This 2-color flow cytometry method, used in conjunction with the capture and elution of oocysts by and from immunomagnetic particles, provides a powerful tool for not only the quantification and purification of C. parvum oocysts from different sources but also for the characterization of oocysts in vitro and in vivo.
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