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Eimeria is a common genus of apicomplexan parasites that infect diverse vertebrates, most notably poultry, causing serious disease and economic loss. Like all apicomplexans, eimerians have a complex life cycle characterized by asexual divisions that amplify the parasite population in preparation for sexual reproduction. This can be divided into three events: gametocytogenesis, producing gametocytes from merozoites; gametogenesis, producing microgametes and macrogametes from gametocytes; and fertilization of macrogametes by microgametes, producing diploid zygotes with ensuing meiosis completing the sexual phase. Sexual development in Eimeria depends on the differential expression of stage-specific genes, rather than presence or absence of sex chromosomes. Thus, it involves the generation of specific structures and, implicitly, storage of proteins and regulation of protein expression in macrogametes, in preparation for fertilization. In Eimeria, the formation of a unique, resilient structure, the oocyst wall, is essential for completion of the sexual phase and parasite transmission. In this review, we piece together the molecular events that underpin sexual reproduction in Eimeria and use additional details from analogous events in Plasmodium to fill current knowledge gaps. The mechanisms governing sexual stage formation and subsequent fertilization may represent targets for counteracting parasite transmission.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1701 - 1717


Eimeria, Fertilization, Gametogenesis, Life Cycle Stages, Meiosis, Oocysts