Background: The protozoan Eimeria tenella is a common parasite of chickens, causing avian coccidiosis, a disease of on-going concern to agricultural industries. The high prevalence of E. tenella can be attributed to the resilient oocyst stage, which is transmitted between hosts in the environment. As in related Coccidia, development of the eimerian oocyst appears to be dependent on completion of the parasite's sexual cycle. RNA Seq transcriptome profiling offers insights into the mechanisms governing the biology of E. tenella sexual stages (gametocytes) and the potential to identify targets for blocking parasite transmission.
Results: Comparisons between the sequenced transcriptomes of E. tenella gametocytes and two asexual developmental stages, merozoites and sporozoites, revealed upregulated gametocyte transcription of 863 genes. Many of these genes code for proteins involved in coccidian sexual biology, such as oocyst wall biosynthesis and fertilisation, and some of these were characterised in more depth. Thus, macrogametocyte-specific expression and localisation was confirmed for two proteins destined for incorporation into the oocyst wall, as well as for a subtilisin protease and an oxidoreductase. Homologues of an oocyst wall protein and oxidoreductase were found in the related coccidian, Toxoplasma gondii, and shown to be macrogametocyte-specific. In addition, a microgametocyte gamete fusion protein, EtHAP2, was discovered.
Conclusions: The need for novel vaccine candidates capable of controlling coccidiosis is rising and this panel of gametocyte targets represents an invaluable resource for development of future strategies to interrupt parasite transmission, not just in Eimeria but in other Coccidia, including Toxoplasma, where transmission blocking is a relatively unexplored strategy.