Current status of vaccine development against Theileria parasites.
The tick-borne protozoan parasites Theileria parva and Theileria annulata cause economically important diseases of cattle in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Because of shortcomings in disease control measures based on therapy and tick control, there is a demand for effective vaccines against these diseases. Vaccines using live parasites have been available for over two decades, but despite their undoubted efficacy they have not been used on a large scale. Lack of infrastructure for vaccine production and distribution, as well as concerns about the introduction of vaccine parasite strains into local tick populations have curtailed the use of these vaccines. More recently, research has focused on the development of subunit vaccines. Studies of immune responses to different stages of the parasites have yielded immunological probes that have been used to identify candidate vaccine antigens. Immunisation of cattle with antigens expressed in the sporozoite, schizont or merozoite stages has resulted in varying degrees of protection against challenge. Although the levels of protection achieved have not been sufficient to allow exploitation for vaccination, there are clearly further lines of investigation, relating to both the choice of antigens and the antigen delivery systems employed, that need to be pursued to fully explore the potential of the candidate vaccines. Improved knowledge of the molecular biology and immunology of the parasites gained during the course of these studies has also opened up opportunities to refine and improve the quality of live vaccines.