According to current knowledge, sexual development of the apicomplexan parasite Neospora caninum takes place in the canine intestine. However, to date there is no information on the interaction between the parasite and the canine intestinal epithelium, and, next to the clinical and in vivo research tools, an in vitro model comprised of canine intestinal cells infected with N. caninum would be very helpful for investigations at the cellular level. Following the isolation of cells of neonatal canine duodenum and growth of cell cultures to monolayers for 5–6 days, canine intestinal epithelial cells were exposed to cell culture– derived N. caninum tachyzoites and bradyzoites. The host cells remained viable during in vitro culture for an average of 2 wk. During this time span, N. caninum was found to readily adhere to any surface area of these cells, but infection took mostly place at sites where microvilli-like structures were missing, e.g., at the cell periphery, with tachyzoites exhibiting at least 3–4 times increased invasive capacities compared to bradyzoites. Once intracellular, parasites resided within a parasitophorous vacuole, moved toward the vicinity of the nucleus and the more distal portion of the epithelial cells, and proliferated to form vacuoles of not more than 2–4 parasites, which were surrounded by numerous mitochondria. Immunofluorescence staining and TEM of infected cells showed that the expression of cytokeratins and the structural integrity of desmosomes and tight junctions were not notably altered during infection. Furthermore, no changes could be detected in the alkaline phosphatase activities in cell culture supernatants of infected and noninfected cells. Canine duodenal epithelial cell cultures represent a useful tool for future studies on the characteristics of the intestinal phases of N. caninum infection.
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