The Apicomplexa are a diverse group of parasitic protozoa with very ancient phylogenetic roots. Consistent with their phylogeny, the extant species share conserved proteins and traits that were found in their apicomplexan progenitor, but at the same time they have diverged to occupy different biological niches (e.g. host-range and cell type). Characterisation of gene and protein diversity is important for distinguishing between related parasites, for determining their phylogeny, and for providing insight into factors that determine host restriction, cell preference, and virulence. The value of molecular characterisations and comparisons between species is well illustrated by the close phylogenetic relationship between Neospora caninum and Toxoplasma gondii. These two organisms have nearly identical morphology and can cause similar pathology and disease. Consequently, N. caninum has often been incorrectly identified as T. gondii, thus demonstrating the need for studies addressing the molecular and antigenic composition of Neospora. In this review, we describe the major antigenic proteins that have been characterised in N. caninum. These show homology to T. gondii proteins, yet possess unique antigenic characteristics that distinguish them from their homologues and enable their use for specific serological diagnoses and parasite identification.
- Intracellular parasite