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Microbes and microbial toxins: paradigms for microbial-mucosal interactions. VI. Entamoeba histolytica: parasite-host interactions.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 S. Euclid, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


The protozoan intestinal parasite Entamoeba histolytica remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. E. histolytica causes two major clinical syndromes, amebic colitis and amebic liver abscess. Recent advances in the development of in vitro and in vivo models of disease, new genetic approaches, the identification of key E. histolytica virulence factors, and the recognition of crucial elements of the host response to infection have led to significant insights into the pathogenesis of amebic infection. E. histolytica virulence factors include 1) a surface galactose binding lectin that mediates E. histolytica binding to host cells and may contribute to amebic resistance to complement, 2) amebapores, small peptides capable of lysing cells, which may play a role in killing intestinal epithelial cells, hepatocytes, and host defense cells, and 3) a family of secreted cysteine proteinases that play a key role in E. histolytica tissue invasion, evasion of host defenses, and parasite induction of gut inflammation. Amebae can both lyse host cells and induce their suicide through programmed cell death. The host response is also an important factor in the outcome of infection, and neutrophils may play a key role in contributing to the tissue damage seen in amebiasis and in controlling amebic infection.

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