Programmed cell death in a human intestinal parasite, Blastocystis hominis

Parasitology. 2001 Sep;123(Pt 3):235-46. doi: 10.1017/s0031182001008332.


Although programmed cell death (PCD) has been associated with multicellular organisms, there have been more reports of its presence in some protozoans. Our study shows the existence of PCD in an intestinal protozoan, Blastocystis hominis. Light and electron microscopy, biochemical and flow cytometry studies showed apoptosis-like death in B. hominis cells exposed to a cytotoxic monoclonal antibody (MAb 1D5). B. hominis cells displayed key morphological and biochemical features of apoptosis, namely, nuclear condensation and in situ fragmentation, reduced cytoplasmic volume, some externalization of phosphatidylserine and maintenance of plasma membrane integrity. No oligonucleosomal DNA laddering was observed in gel electrophoresis. This study supports earlier observations that the cellular machinery that is required to carry out PCD may have existed before the advent of multicellularity. Our study also ascribes a novel function for the B. hominis central vacuole in apoptosis; it acts as a repository where apoptotic bodies are stored before being released into the extracellular space.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Blastocystis Infections / immunology
  • Blastocystis hominis / immunology
  • Blastocystis hominis / physiology*
  • Blastocystis hominis / ultrastructure
  • Cell Membrane / immunology
  • DNA Fragmentation / immunology
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phosphatidylserines / analysis


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphatidylserines