Neosporosis, caused by the apicomplexan parasite Neospora caninum
, represents one of the economically most important causes of abortion in cattle. During pregnancy, the parasite infects the placental tissue and the fetus, which can lead to stillbirth, abortion, or birth of weak calves. Alternatively, calves are born without clinical symptoms, but they can carry over the parasite to the next generation. In addition, N. caninum
causes neuromuscular disease in dogs. The economic importance of neosporosis has prompted researchers to invest in the development of measures to prevent infection of cattle by vaccination. A good vaccine must stimulate protective cellular immune responses as well as antibody responses at mucosal sites and, systemically, must activate T-helper cells to produce relevant cytokines, and must elicit specific antibodies that aid in limiting parasite proliferation, e.g., by interference with host cell invasion, activation of complement, and/or opsonization of parasites to have them killed by macrophages. Different types of vaccines have been investigated, either in bovines or in the mouse model. These include live vaccines such as naturally less virulent isolates of N. caninum
, attenuated strains generated by irradiation or chemical means, or genetically modified transgenic strains. Live vaccines were shown to be very effective; however, there are serious disadvantages in terms of safety, costs of production, and stability of the final product. Subunit vaccines have been intensively studied, as they would have clear advantages such as reduced costs in production, processing and storage, increased stability and shelf life. The parasite antigens involved in adhesion and invasion of host cells, such as surface constituents, microneme-, rhoptry- and dense granule-components represent interesting targets. Subunit vaccines have been applied as bacterially expressed recombinant antigens or as DNA vaccines. Besides monovalent vaccines also polyvalent combinations of different antigens have been used, providing increased protection. Vaccines have been combined with immunostimulating carriers and, more recently, chimeric vaccines, incorporating immuno-relevant domains of several antigens into a single protein, have been developed.