Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan pathogen of birds and mammals, including humans. The infective stage, the bradyzoite, lives within cysts, which occur predominantly in cells of the central nervous system and skeletal and cardiac muscles, characterizing the chronic phase of toxoplasmosis. In the present study, we employed for the first time primary mouse culture of skeletal muscle cells (SkMC) infected with bradyzoites, as a cellular model for cystogenesis. The interconversion of bradyzoite and tachyzoite was analyzed by immunofluorescence using 2 stage-specific antibodies, i.e., anti-bradyzoite (anti-BAG1) and anti-tachyzoite (anti-SAG1). After 24 hr of interaction only bradyzoites were multiplying, as revealed by anti-BAG1 incubation; interconversion to tachyzoites was not observed. After 48 hr of infection, 2 types of vacuoles were seen, i.e., BAG1 and SAG1 , indicating the presence of bradyzoites as well as their interconversion to tachyzoites. After 96 hr of infection, BAG1 vacuoles presented a higher number of parasites when compared to 48 hr, indicating multiplication of bradyzoites without interconversion. Using ultrastructural analysis, bradyzoites were found to adhere to the cell membranes via both the apical and posterior regions or were associated with SkMC membrane expansions. During bradyzoite invasion of SkMC, migration of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) profiles to the parasite invasion site was observed. Later, RER profiles were localized between the mitochondria and parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM) that contained the parasite. After 31 days of parasite-host cell infection, RER profiles and mitochondria were not observed in association with the cyst wall. Alterations of the PVM, including increased thickness and electrondensity gain on its inner membrane face, were observed 48 hr after infection. Cystogenesis was complete 96 hr after infection, resulting in the formation of the cyst wall, which displayed numerous membrane invaginations. In addition, an electron-dense granular region enriched with vesicles and tubules was present, as well as numerous intracystic bradyzoites. These results show that the in vitro T. gondii model and SkMC are potential tools for both the study of cystogenesis using molecular approaches and the drug screening action on tissue cysts and bradyzoites.
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