Microsporidia: emerging pathogenic protists

Acta Trop. 2001 Feb 23;78(2):89-102. doi: 10.1016/s0001-706x(00)00178-9.


Microsporidia are eukaryotic spore forming obligate intracellular protozoan parasites first recognized over 100 years ago. These organisms infect all of the major animal groups and are now recognized as opportunistic pathogens of humans. Microsporidian spores are common in the environment and microsporidia pathogenic to humans have been found in water supplies. The genera Nosema, Vittaforma, Brachiola, Pleistophora, Encephalitozoon, Enterocytozoon, Septata (reclassified to Encephalitozoon) and Trachipleistophora have been found in human infections. These organisms have the smallest known eukaryotic genomes. Microsporidian ribosomal RNA sequences have proven useful as diagnostic tools as well as for phylogenetic analysis. Recent phylogenetic analysis suggests that Microsporidia are related to the fungi. These organisms are defined by the presence of a unique invasion organelle consisting of a single polar tube that coils around the interior of the spore. All microsporidia exhibit the same response to stimuli, that is, the polar tube discharges from the anterior pole of the spore in an explosive reaction. If the polar tube is discharged next to a cell, it can pierce the cell and transfer its sporoplasm into the cell. A technique was developed for the purification of polar tube proteins (PTPs) using differential extraction followed by reverse phase HPLC. This method was used to purify the PTPs from Glugea americanus, Encephalitozoon cuniculi, Enc. hellem and Enc. intestinalis. These PTPs demonstrate conserved characteristics such as solubility, hydrophobicity, mass, proline content and immunologic epitopes. The major PTP gene from Enc. cuniculi and Enc. hellem has been cloned and expressed in vitro. The gene sequences support the importance of ER and in the formation of the polar tube as suggested by morphologic studies. Analysis of the cloned proteins also indicates that secondary structural characteristics are conserved. These characteristics are probably important in the function of this protein during the eversion/assembly of the polar tube and in providing elasticity and resiliency for sporoplasm passage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Microsporidia / classification
  • Microsporidia / genetics
  • Microsporidia / pathogenicity
  • Microsporidia / physiology*
  • Microsporidiosis / parasitology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid