Metronidazole induces programmed cell death in the protozoan parasite Blastocystis hominis

Microbiology (Reading). 2004 Jan;150(Pt 1):33-43. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.26496-0.


Previous studies by the authors have shown that the protozoan parasite Blastocystis hominis succumbed to a cytotoxic monoclonal antibody with a number of cellular and biochemical features characteristic of apoptosis in higher eukaryotes. The present study reports that apoptosis-like features are also observed in growing cultures of axenic B. hominis upon exposure to metronidazole, a drug commonly used for the treatment of blastocystosis. Upon treatment with the drug, B. hominis cells displayed key morphological and biochemical features of programmed cell death (PCD), viz. nuclear condensation and nicked DNA in nucleus, reduced cytoplasmic volume, externalization of phosphatidylserine and maintenance of plasma membrane integrity with increasing permeability. This present study also supports the authors' previously postulated novel function for the B. hominis central vacuole in PCD; it acts as a repository where apoptotic bodies are stored before being released into the extracellular space. The implications and possible roles of PCD in B. hominis are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blastocystis hominis / cytology*
  • Blastocystis hominis / drug effects*
  • Blastocystis hominis / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • Metronidazole / pharmacology*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism


  • Antiprotozoal Agents
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Metronidazole