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Evolution and diversity of the EMA families of the divergent equid parasites, Theileria equi and T. haneyi

Wise, L.N., Kappmeyer, L.S., Knowles, D.P., White, S.N.
Infection, genetics, and evolution 2019 v.68 pp. 153-160
Theileria equi, antigenic variation, antigens, cobra venoms, erythrocytes, evolution, genes, hemolysins, horses, merozoites, models, parasites, pathogenesis, trade
The equine parasite Theilera equi continues to curtail global equine commerce due primarily to its ability to persist indefinitely in the immunocompetent horse. Details regarding the parasite life cycle, pathogenesis and mechanism of persistence remain unclear. The recently discovered T. haneyi is also capable of persistence in the horse, creating a potential reservoir for additional infections. These two divergent parasites share a unique gene family that expresses surface merozoite antigens, or equi merozoite antigens (EMAs). The EMA family was maintained in number and size in both parasites despite a species divergence of over 30 million years ago. This family is unique amongst Theilerias in number, structure and biochemical properties. In silico analysis revealed no evidence of selection for diversity within this family, indicating a role in host adaptation and persistence rather than antigenic variation and immune escape. Biochemical analysis revealed the presence of a conserved domain, homologous to the hemolysin toxin found in cobra venom. This finding combined with data from protein interaction prediction models may indicate interaction with the structural components of the host erythrocyte and a role in merozoite entry or escape. Additional predicted protein interactions focus on disruption of the enzymatic functions of the host cell, potentially resulting in enhanced parasite survival.