Evaluation of diagnostic techniques for early detection of heartworm in experimentally infected dogs: identification of Dirofilaria immitis-derived microRNA in the initial 28 weeks post-inoculation

graphical abstract

Background: Dirofilaria immitis, commonly known as heartworm (HW), is a parasitic nematode transmitted by various mosquito species, leading to heartworm disease (HWD) in dogs. Diagnosis of HW typically involves antigen or microfilariae detection, or visualization of adult worms through imaging or post mortem examination. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and micro RNA (miRNA) detection have been explored for HW diagnosis.

Methods: Three dogs, previously experimentally infected with HW, underwent blood sampling every 4 weeks for 7 months. Samples were assessed for antigen presence after heat treatment, PCR amplification, and microfilaria examination using Giemsa-stained thick smears. Additionally, whole blood aliquots underwent miRNA deep sequencing and bioinformatic analysis.

Results: Heartworm antigen was detectable after heat treatment at 20 weeks post-inoculation and via PCR at 24 weeks, with microfilariae observed in peripheral blood smears at 28 weeks. However, deep miRNA sequencing revealed that the miRNA candidate sequences are not consistently expressed before 28 weeks of infection.

Conclusions: While ancillary molecular methods such as PCR and miRNA sequencing may be less effective than antigen detection for detecting immature larval stages in an early stage of infection, our experimental findings demonstrate that circulating miRNAs can still be detected in 28 weeks post-infection.

Daniel Felipe Barrantes Murillo, Elyssa J Campbell, Andrew R Moorhead, Chengming Wang. Parasit Vectors. 2024 Jun 13;17(1):258. doi: 10.1186/s13071-024-06337-y.