Amoeba study puts bite on dysentery

Apr 09, 2014
Entamoeba histolytica parasites ingesting bites of human Jurkat T cells, captured using live confocal video microscopy. The cell membranes of the human cells were pre-labeled with DiD (pink) and the amoebae were pre-labeled with cell tracker green (green). Credit: Katy Ralston

An amoeba parasite that causes potentially fatal dysentery in poor countries wreaks its havoc by eating intestinal cells alive, scientists reported on Wednesday.

Called Entamoeba histolytica, the parasite destroys cells lining the colon, causing ulcers and abscesses and sometimes spreading in the blood to the liver and other organs.

But how it does this has been unclear, until now.

A common presumption was that the amoeba injects a toxic cocktail into the cells to kill them and then gobbles them down.

A team led by William Petri of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville caught amoebae in the act in a feat of live microscopy.

The parasite takes single bites out of living cells until the damage is such that the cell eventually dies, they found.

The then detaches, spits out non-digested chunks of cell, and heads to the next meal.

The process is called trogocytosis, from the Greek word meaning "to nibble."

This is the first time a parasite has been seen doing this in .

Amoebic dysentery, also called amoebiasis, is handed on in faecally-contaminated food and water or through person-to-person contact.

Entamoeba histolytica parasites ingesting bites of intestinal cells in an explanted mouse intestine, captured using live two-photon microscopy. Tissue was from a mouse expressing membrane-targeted green fluorescent protein (green) and amoebae were pre-labeled with calcein violet (blue). Credit: Katy Ralston and David Zemo

Its hallmarks are violent diarrhoea, often with traces of blood, abdominal pain and flatulence. There is no vaccine, but the condition can be treated with an antibiotic called metronidazole, marketed as Flagyl.

Understanding how E. histolytica devours suggests intriguing new paths for drugs to block it, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

"Amoebic trogocytosis is a potentially promising target for the future of new therapeutics for amoebiasis, a major neglected disease in the developing world," it said.

Explore further: CDC frees up drug that fights brain-eating amoeba

More information: Trogocytosis by Entamoeba histolytica contributes to cell killing and tissue invasion, Nature (2014) DOI: 10.1038/nature13242

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Australian researchers close in on malaria vaccine

Jul 02, 2013

Australian researchers said Tuesday they were closing in on a potential vaccine against malaria, with a study showing their treatment had protected mice against several strains of the disease.

Amoeba feast on backpacks

Oct 22, 2012

(Phys.org)—The amoeba Acanthamoeba cunningly traps motile bacteria, collecting them in a rucksack before devouring the whole backpack. This behaviour of the single-cell organisms is unique.

CDC frees up drug that fights brain-eating amoeba

Aug 22, 2013

(HealthDay)—Miltefosine, a potentially life-saving experimental drug to treat people infected with a rare but deadly brain-eating amoeba, is now available to U.S. doctors directly from the U.S. Centers ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

8 hours ago

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

8 hours ago

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

Histones and the mystery of cell proliferation

Aug 19, 2014

Before cells divide, they create so much genetic material that it must be wound onto spools before the two new cells can split apart. These spools are actually proteins called histones, and they must multiply ...

User comments : 0