Proinflammatory cytokine expression by Theileria annulata infected cell lines correlates with the pathology they cause in vivo

Control of Theileria annulata is currently best achieved by the use of live attenuated cell line vaccines. However, the mechanisms underlying attenuation are unclear and there is a need to rapidly produce new cell line vaccines, which could safely and effectively vaccinate cattle against tropical theileriosis. There is increasing evidence to suggest that proinflammatory cytokines produced by T. annulata infected cells play a central role in both pathology and immune evasion. This study aimed to test this hypothesis and to evaluate cytokine expression as a marker of virulence. The pathogenicity and protective efficacy of cloned T. annulata cell lines that expressed different levels of proinflammatory cytokines were compared. In two independent trials using different stocks of T. annulata, cell lines that expressed higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines induced severe reactions, and in some cases death, when used to vaccinate groups of cattle. In contrast, low cytokine expressing lines induced low post-vaccinal reactions. The results clearly demonstrated that cytokine expression by T. annulata infected cells could be used as a marker of virulence and provided strong evidence to support a role for cytokines in the induction of pathology. Both high and low cytokine expressing cell lines protected cattle against heterologous challenge infection, offering the possibility of using cytokine expression to rapidly select new safe, potent vaccines against tropical theileriosis without the need for culture attenuation.

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