BackgroundBovine besnoitiosis, caused by the apicomplexan parasite Besnoitia besnoiti, is a chronic and debilitating cattle disease that notably impairs fertility. Acutely infected bulls may develop respiratory signs and orchitis, and sterility has been reported in chronic infections. However, the pathogenesis of acute disease and its impact on reproductive function remain unknown.MethodsHerein, we studied the microscopic lesions as well as parasite presence and load in the testis (pampiniform plexus, testicular parenchyma and scrotal skin) of seven bulls with an acute B. besnoiti infection. Acute infection was confirmed by serological techniques (IgM seropositive results and IgG seronegative results) and subsequent parasite detection by PCR and histological techniques.ResultsThe most parasitized tissue was the scrotal skin. Moreover, the presence of tachyzoites, as shown by immunohistochemistry, was associated with vasculitis, and three bulls had already developed juvenile tissue cysts. In all animals, severe endothelial injury was evidenced by marked congestion, thrombosis, necrotizing vasculitis and angiogenesis, among others, in the pampiniform plexus, testicular parenchyma and scrotal skin. Vascular lesions coexisted with lesions characteristic of a chronic infection in the majority of bulls: hyperkeratosis, acanthosis and a marked diffuse fibroplasia in the dermis of the scrotum. An intense inflammatory infiltrate was also observed in the testicular parenchyma accompanied by different degrees of germline atrophy in the seminiferous tubules with the disappearance of various strata of germ cells in four bulls.ConclusionsThis study confirmed that severe acute besnoitiosis leads to early sterility that might be permanent, which is supported by the severe lesions observed. Consequently, we hypothesized that testicular degeneration might be a consequence of (i) thermoregulation failure induced by vascular lesions in pampiniform plexus and scrotal skin lesions; (ii) severe vascular wall injury induced by the inflammatory response in the testis; and (iii) blood-testis barrier damage and alteration of spermatogenesis by immunoresponse.