Blastocystis is a ubiquitous enteric protozoan found in the intestinal tracts of humans and a wide range of animals. Evidence accumulated over the last decade suggests association of Blastocystis with gastrointestinal disorders involving diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, and fatigue. Clinical and experimental studies have associated Blastocystis with intestinal inflammation, and it has been shown that Blastocystis has potential to modulate the host immune response. Blastocystis is also reported to be an opportunistic pathogen in immunosuppressed patients, especially those suffering from AIDS. However, nothing is known about the parasitic virulence factors and early events following host-parasite interactions. In the present study, we investigated the molecular mechanism by which Blastocystis activates interleukin-8 (IL-8) gene expression in human colonic epithelial T84 cells. We demonstrate for the first time that cysteine proteases of Blastocystis ratti WR1, a zoonotic isolate, can activate IL-8 gene expression in human colonic epithelial cells. Furthermore, we show that NF-kappaB activation is involved in the production of IL-8. In addition, our findings show that treatment with the antiprotozoal drug metronidazole can avert IL-8 production induced by B. ratti WR1. We also show for the first time that the central vacuole of Blastocystis may function as a reservoir for cysteine proteases. Our findings will contribute to an understanding of the pathobiology of a poorly studied parasite whose public health importance is increasingly recognized.