Strains of Sarcocystis neurona exhibit differences in their surface antigens, including the absence of the major surface antigen SnSAG1

Daniel K. Howe, Rajshekhar Y. Gaji, Antoinette E. Marsh, Bhagyashree A. Patil, William J. Saville, David S. Lindsay, J. P. Dubey, David E. Granstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


A gene family of surface antigens is expressed by merozoites of Sarcocystis neurona, the primary cause of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). These surface proteins, designated SnSAGs, are immunodominant and therefore excellent candidates for development of EPM diagnostics or vaccines. Prior work had identified an EPM isolate lacking the major surface antigen SnSAG1, thus suggesting there may be some diversity in the SnSAGs expressed by different S. neurona isolates. Therefore, a bioinformatic, molecular and immunological study was conducted to assess conservation of the SnSAGs. Examination of an expressed sequence tag (EST) database revealed several notable SnSAG polymorphisms. In particular, the EST information implied that the EPM strain SN4 lacked the major surface antigen SnSAG1. The absence of this surface antigen from the SN4 strain was confirmed by both Western blot and Southern blot. To evaluate SnSAG polymorphisms in the S. neurona population, 14 strains were examined by Western blots using monospecific polyclonal antibodies against the four described SnSAGs. The results of these analyses demonstrated that SnSAG2, SnSAG3, and SnSAG4 are present in all 14 S. neurona strains tested, although some variance in SnSAG4 was observed. Importantly, SnSAG1 was not detected in seven of the strains, which included isolates from four cases of EPM and a case of fatal meningoencephalitis in a sea otter. Genetic analyses by PCR using gene-specific primers confirmed the absence of the SnSAG1 locus in six of these seven strains. Collectively, the data indicated that there is heterogeneity in the surface antigen composition of different S. neurona isolates, which is an important consideration for development of serological tests and prospective vaccines for EPM. Furthermore, the diversity reported herein likely extends to other phenotypes, such as strain virulence, and may have implications for the phylogeny of the various Sarcocystis spp. that undergo sexual stages of their life cycle in opossums.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-631
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was provided by the Amerman Family Foundation, Fort Dodge Animal Health and gifts from various donors. Published as Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station article number 07-14-064.


  • Apicomplexa
  • Diagnosis
  • Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis
  • Surface antigen polymorphism
  • Vaccine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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