The developmental expression of the antigen SO7, which has been previously shown to protect chickens against infection by several Eimeria species, was investigated. Using RT-PCR, mRNA for SO7 was found to be restricted primarily to unsporulated oocysts (0 hr). Western blot (WB) analysis with an antibody to recombinant SO7 (rbSO7) revealed expression of the protein from 6 to 72 hr (fully sporulated) of sporulation and in sporozoites (SZ). SO7 was absent in host-derived second-stage merozoites (MZ) and was present in culture-derived first-stage MZ but at a level of only 25% of that exhibited by SZ. During invasion of Madin-Darby bovine kidney (MDBK) cells by SZ in vitro, the level of SO7 within cells, as determined by WB analysis, remained relatively constant until 48 hr of development and then decreased by about 40% at the next time point (72 hr). The SO7 secreted into the culture media during in vitro development increased to a relative maximum at 48 hr and then decreased to about 20% of maximum at 72 hr. Immunostaining with anti-rbSO7 indicates that SO7 is highly concentrated in both refractile bodies (RB) of SZ, with some limited distribution in the apical complex. Anti-rbSO7 intensively stained the intracellular parasites and the first-stage schizonts during in vitro development of E. tenella in MDBK cells. Upon release from the schizonts, the first-stage merozoites stained with 1 or 2 bright spots typically at each end. The results suggest that SO7 is closely associated with the SZ RB and is developmentally regulated but may not play a direct role in cellular invasion.
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