To investigate how different routes of Toxoplasma gondii transmission influence the antibody response and infection status of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), 80 mice were orally infected with 1, 5, 10, or 100 T. gondii oocysts. Ten weeks postinfection, 15 T. gondii–seropositive female mice were bred and allowed to produce 2 litters. Evidence of persistent T .gondii infection in orally infected mice was detected by serology and DNA amplification in mice from all 4 oocyst treatment groups, including those that received only a single T. gondii oocyst. Congenital transmission of T. gondii was detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 7/8 first and 4/7 second litters. Toxoplasma gondii was also detected by PCR in 9/30 congenitally infected offspring 16 wk after birth, despite the fact that detectable serological titers had waned. These findings raise questions about the applicability of serological testing to assess the prevalence of T. gondii infection in deer mice and other rodents in the wild. Additionally, the detection of frequent congenital transmission suggests that deer mice could help maintain T. gondii in the environment even in the absence of definitive feline hosts.
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