Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2008 Feb 13;2(2):e169. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000169.

Tonic shock induces detachment of Giardia lamblia.

Author information

  • 1Biophysics Graduate Group, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.



The parasite Giardia lamblia must remain attached to the host small intestine in order to proliferate and subsequently cause disease. However, little is known about the factors that may cause detachment in vivo, such as changes in the aqueous environment. Osmolality within the proximal small intestine can vary by nearly an order of magnitude between host fed and fasted states, while pH can vary by several orders of magnitude. Giardia cells are known to regulate their volume when exposed to changes in osmolality, but the short-timescale effects of osmolality and pH on parasite attachment are not known.


We used a closed flow chamber assay to test the effects of rapid changes in media osmolality, tonicity, and pH on Giardia attachment to both glass and C2(Bbe)-1 intestinal cell monolayer surfaces. We found that Giardia detach from both surfaces in a tonicity-dependent manner, where tonicity is the effective osmolality experienced by the cell. Detachment occurs with a characteristic time constant of 25 seconds (SD = 10 sec, n = 17) in both hypo- and hypertonic media but is otherwise insensitive to physiologically relevant changes in media composition and pH. Interestingly, cells that remain attached are able to adapt to moderate changes in tonicity. By exposing cells to a timed pattern of tonicity variations and adjustment periods, we found that it is possible to maximize the tonicity change experienced by the cells, overcoming the adaptive response and resulting in extensive detachment.


These results, conducted with human-infecting Giardia on human intestinal epithelial monolayers, highlight the ability of Giardia to adapt to the changing intestinal environment and suggest new possibilities for treatment of giardiasis by manipulation of tonicity in the intestinal lumen.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk