Genetic analyses of atypical Toxoplasma gondii strains reveal a fourth clonal lineage in North America

Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.
International journal for parasitology (Impact Factor: 3.87). 02/2011; 41(6):645-55. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2011.01.005
Source: PubMed


Toxoplasma gondii is a widespread parasite of animals that causes zoonotic infections in humans. Previous studies have revealed a strongly clonal population structure in North America and Europe, while strains from South America are genetically separate and more diverse. However, the composition within North America has been questioned by recent descriptions of genetically more variable strains from this region. Here, we examined an expanded set of isolates using sequenced-based phylogenetic and population analyses to re-evaluate the population structure of T. gondii in North America. Our findings reveal that isolates previously defined by atypical restriction fragment length polymorphism patterns fall into two discrete groups. In one case, these new isolates represent variants of an existing lineage, from which they differ only by minor mutational drift. However, in the second case, it is evident that these isolates define a completely new lineage that is common in North America. Support for this new lineage was based on phylogeny, principle components analysis, STRUCTURE analyses, and statistical analysis of gene flow between groups. This new group, referred to as haplogroup 12, contains divergent genotypes previously referred to as A and X, isolated from sea otters. Consistent with this, group 12 was found primarily in wild animals, as well as occasionally in humans. This new lineage also has a highly clonal population structure. Analysis of the inheritance of multilocus genotypes revealed that different strains within group 12 are the products of a single recombination event between type 2 and a unique parental lineage. Collectively, the archetypal type 2 has been associated with clonal expansion of a small number of lineages in the North, as a consequence of separate but infrequent genetic crosses with several different parental lines.

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