Virulent strains of Toxoplasma gondii comprise a single clonal lineage

Nature. 1992 Sep 3;359(6390):82-5. doi: 10.1038/359082a0.


The protozoan Toxoplasma gondii is a prevalent parasite in wild and domestic animals worldwide, being transmitted through the food chain by carnivorous feeding and scavenging. Toxoplasma normally divides asexually to yield a haploid form that can infect virtually any vertebrate but it also has a well defined sexual cycle that occurs exclusively in cats. Toxoplasma has become important as an often fatal opportunistic pathogen in patients with AIDS, although the 15-85% of adult human populations that are chronically infected with T. gondii are typically asymptomatic. Infections in immunocompromised hosts have variable outcomes. For example, only 30 to 50% of AIDS patients that are chronically infected with the parasite develop toxoplasmic encephalitis and only about half of acute maternal infections result in congenital disease of the newborn. T. gondii strains differ in their virulence in animals, but the extent to which different strains are related has not been determined. Here we analyse 28 strains from a variety of hosts on five continents and find that the ten virulent strains have an essentially identical genotype, whereas the nonvirulent strains are moderately polymorphic. These data strongly suggest that virulent strains of T. gondii originated from a single lineage which has remained genetically homogeneous despite being globally widespread, and despite the ability of this organism to reproduce sexually.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Probes
  • DNA, Protozoan / analysis
  • Genotype
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Toxoplasma / classification
  • Toxoplasma / genetics*
  • Toxoplasma / pathogenicity
  • Virulence / genetics


  • DNA Probes
  • DNA, Protozoan