Molecular genetics was used to devise the first reliable diagnostic tool for differentiating morphologically indistinguishable dorsal-spined, first-stage larvae (L1's) and other stages of the nematode protostrongylid subfamily Elaphostrongylinae. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay employing specifically designed primers was developed to selectively amplify DNA of the ITS-2 region of the ribosomal gene. Amplification of the entire ITS-2 region differentiated between larvae of the genera Elaphostrongylus and Parelaphostrongylus, based on the lengths of fragments produced. Three sets of primers were designed and used successfully to distinguish larvae at the species level. Although it was demonstrated that one primer set in a single PCR assay was capable of distinguishing each of the three Parelaphostrongylus spp., a second primer set would be required for confirmation in routine diagnostic use. Two of the three primer sets were capable of amplifying DNA from all six elaphostrongyline species and of identifying Elaphostrongylus alces and Parelaphostrongylus odocoilei. Although two separate fragments were produced from each Elaphostrongylus cervi and Elaphostrongylus rangiferi, it was not possible to distinguish these two parasites from each other based on the fragment size. The use of various nematodes, hosts, and fecal controls demonstrated the reliability of the primers for all developmental stages including L1's, third-stage larvae, and adult worms. These primers also have potential for identifying other lungworms as was shown by the amplification of Umingmakstrongylus pallikuukensis, the muskox protostrongylid, and Dictyocaulus sp. from white-tailed deer. Although this assay may benefit from further refinement, its present design provides researchers, wildlife managers, clinicians, and animal health regulators with a practical tool for the control, management, and study of meningeal and tissue worms and their close relatives.
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