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Cell Microbiol. 2009 Nov;11(11):1551-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2009.01362.x. Epub 2009 Aug 5.

Unique physiology of host-parasite interactions in microsporidia infections.

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Centre for Eukaryotic Evolutionary Microbiology, School of Biosciences, Stocker Road, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon EX4 4QD, UK.


Microsporidia are intracellular parasites of all major animal lineages and have a described diversity of over 1200 species and an actual diversity that is estimated to be much higher. They are important pathogens of mammals, and are now one of the most common infections among immunocompromised humans. Although related to fungi, microsporidia are atypical in genomic biology, cell structure and infection mechanism. Host cell infection involves the rapid expulsion of a polar tube from a dormant spore to pierce the host cell membrane and allow the direct transfer of the spore contents into the host cell cytoplasm. This intimate relationship between parasite and host is unique. It allows the microsporidia to be highly exploitative of the host cell environment and cause such diverse effects as the induction of hypertrophied cells to harbour prolific spore development, host sex ratio distortion and host cell organelle and microtubule reorganization. Genome sequencing has revealed that microsporidia have achieved this high level of parasite sophistication with radically reduced proteomes and with many typical eukaryotic pathways pared-down to what appear to be minimal functional units. These traits make microsporidia intriguing model systems for understanding the extremes of reductive parasite evolution and host cell manipulation.

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