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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jul 23, 1996; 93(15): 7628–7633.

Cholesterol starvation induces differentiation of the intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia.


Giardia lamblia, like most human intestinal parasitic protozoa, sustains fundamental morphological and biochemical changes to survive outside the small intestine of its mammalian host by differentiating into an infective cyst. However, the stimulus that triggers this differentiation remains totally undefined. In this work, we demonstrate the induction of cyst formation in vitro when trophozoites are starved for cholesterol. Expression of cyst wall proteins was detected within encystation-specific secretory vesicles 90 min after the cells were placed in lipoprotein-deficient TYI-S-33 medium. Four cloned lines derived from two independent Giardia isolates were tested, and all formed cysts similarly. Addition of cholesterol, low density or very low density lipoproteins to the lipoprotein-deficient culture medium, inhibited the expression of cyst wall proteins, the generation of encystation-specific vesicles, and cyst wall biogenesis. In contrast, high density lipoproteins, phospholipids, bile salts, or fatty acids had little or no effect. These results indicate that cholesterol starvation is necessary and sufficient for the stimulation of Giardia encystation in vitro and, likely, in the intestine of mammalian hosts.

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