Novel Hepatozoon spp. sequences collected from previously unrecognized vertebrate hosts in North America were compared with documented Hepatozoon 18S rRNA sequences in an effort to examine phylogenetic relationships between the different Hepatozoon organisms found cycling in nature. An approximately 500–base pair fragment of 18S rDNA common to Hepatozoon spp. and some other apicomplexans was amplified and sequenced from the tissues or blood of 16 vertebrate host species from the southern United States, including 1 opossum (Didelphis virginiana), 2 bobcats (Lynx rufus), 1 domestic cat (Felis catus), 3 coyotes (Canis latrans), 1 gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), 4 raccoons (Procyon lotor), 1 pet boa constrictor (Boa constrictor imperator), 1 swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus), 1 cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), 4 woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes and Neotoma micropus), 3 white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus), 8 cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus), 1 cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus), 1 eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and 1 woodchuck (Marmota monax). Phylogenetic analyses and comparison with sequences in the existing database revealed distinct groups of Hepatozoon spp., with clusters formed by sequences obtained from scavengers and carnivores (opossum, raccoons, canids, and felids) and those obtained from rodents. Surprisingly, Hepatozoon spp. sequences from wild rabbits were most closely related to sequences obtained from carnivores (97.2% identical), and the sequence from the boa constrictor was most closely related to the rodent cluster (97.4% identical). These data are consistent with recent work identifying prey–predator transmission cycles in Hepatozoon spp. and suggest this pattern may be more common than previously recognized.
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