Ancient weapons for attack and defense: the pore-forming polypeptides of pathogenic enteric and free-living amoeboid protozoa

J Eukaryot Microbiol. Sep-Oct 2004;51(5):516-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1550-7408.2004.tb00286.x.


Pore-forming polypeptides have been purified from several amoeboid protozoans that are well-known human pathogens. Obligate enteric parasites, such as Entamoeba histolytica, and free-living but potentially highly pathogenic species, such as Naegleria fowleri, contain these cytolytic molecules inside cytoplasmic granules. Comprehensive functional and structural studies have been conducted that include isolation of the proteins from their natural sources, monitoring of their biological activity towards different targets, and molecular cloning of the genes of their precursors. In the case of the most prominent member of the protein family, with respect to protozoans, the three-dimensional structure of amoebapore A was solved recently. The amoebic pore-forming polypeptides can rapidly perforate human cells. The antibacterial activity of amoebapores and of related polypetides from free-living protozoa points to a more vital function of these molecules: inside the digestive vacuoles they combat growth of phagocytosed bacteria which are killed when their cytoplasmic membranes are permeabilized. The concommitant activity of these proteins towards host cells may be due to a coincidental selection for an efficient effector molecule. Nonetheless, several lines of evidence indicate that these factors are involved in pathogenesis of fatal diseases induced by amoeboid protozoa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / enzymology
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / genetics
  • Entamoeba histolytica / genetics
  • Entamoeba histolytica / immunology
  • Entamoeba histolytica / metabolism*
  • Entamoeba histolytica / ultrastructure
  • Naegleria fowleri / genetics
  • Naegleria fowleri / immunology
  • Naegleria fowleri / metabolism*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Phagosomes / physiology*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*


  • Peptides
  • Protozoan Proteins