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J Biol Chem. 2002 Mar 8;277(10):8083-90. Epub 2002 Jan 4.

The enteric parasite Entamoeba uses an autocrine catecholamine system during differentiation into the infectious cyst stage.

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  • 1Department of Medical and Molecular Parasitology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York 10010, USA. coppia01@med.nyu.edu


Enteric amoebae of the genus Entamoeba travel from host to host in an encysted form. We previously showed that in vitro cyst development of Entamoeba invadens requires the addition of defined amounts of multivalent galactose-terminated molecules, such as mucin, to the cultures. The amoeba surface lectin that binds mucin is presumed to convey transmembrane signals when clustered by the ligand, but the signaling molecules that function downstream of the lectin are not known. We report here that Entamoeba encystation was induced in the absence of galactose ligand when catecholamines were added to the encystation medium. Micromolar amounts of both epinephrine and norepinephrine induced encystation. Of a variety of synthetic catecholamine agonists tested, only beta(1)-adrenergic receptor agonists supported encystation, whereas alpha- and beta(2)-adrenergic receptor agonists did not. Only beta(1)-adrenergic receptor antagonists inhibited encystation, and did so even when exogenous catecholamines were not added, indicating that catecholamine binding is required for encystation and suggesting an endogenous source of the ligand. High performance liquid chromatography analysis of Entamoeba extracts showed that the amoebae themselves contain catecholamines and at least one of these is released when the cells are stimulated to encyst with galactose-terminated ligands. The presence of catecholamine binding sites on the surface of amoeba trophozoites was confirmed using radiolabeled catecholamine antagonist. Amoeba encystment was inhibited by addition of beta(1)-adrenergic receptor antagonist to cells that were stimulated to differentiate with either galactose ligand or catecholamines, but not with dibutyryl cAMP. This suggests that the amoeba catecholamine receptor functions downstream of the galactose lectin and upstream of adenylyl cyclase. This enteric protozoan parasite, therefore, contains the components of an autocrine catecholamine ligand-receptor system that may act in conjunction with a galactose lectin to regulate differentiation into the infectious cyst stage.

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