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Microbiology. 2018 May;164(5):727-739. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.000653. Epub 2018 Apr 5.

Encystation: the most prevalent and underinvestigated differentiation pathway of eukaryotes.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee DD15EH, UK.


Not long ago, protists were considered one of four eukaryote kingdoms, but recent gene-based phylogenies show that they contribute to all nine eukaryote subdomains. The former kingdoms of animals, plants and fungi are now relegated to lower ranks within subdomains. Most unicellular protists respond to adverse conditions by differentiating into dormant walled cysts. As cysts, they survive long periods of starvation, drought and other environmental threats, only to re-emerge when conditions improve. For protists pathogens, the resilience of their cysts can prevent successful treatment or eradication of the disease. In this context, effort has been directed towards understanding the molecular mechanisms that control encystation. We here firstly summarize the prevalence of encystation across protists and next focus on Amoebozoa, where most of the health-related issues occur. We review current data on processes and genes involved in encystation of the obligate parasite Entamoeba histolytica and the opportunistic pathogen Acanthamoeba. We show how the cAMP-mediated signalling pathway that controls spore and stalk cell encapsulation in Dictyostelium fruiting bodies could be retraced to a stress-induced pathway controlling encystation in solitary Amoebozoa. We highlight the conservation and prevalence of cAMP signalling genes in Amoebozoan genomes and the suprisingly large and varied repertoire of proteins for sensing and processing environmental signals in individual species.


Acanthamoeba; Dictyostelium; Encystment; Entamoeba; cyclic AMP signalling; histidine kinase

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