The ways of a killer: how does Entamoeba histolytica elicit host cell death?

Essays Biochem. 2011;51:193-210. doi: 10.1042/bse0510193.


Entamoeba histolytica is the causative agent of amoebiasis in humans and is responsible for an estimated 100,000 deaths annually, making it the second leading cause of death due to a protozoan parasite after Plasmodium. Pathogenesis appears to result from the potent cytotoxic activity of the parasite, which kills host cells within minutes. The mechanism is unknown, but progress has been made in determining that cytotoxicity requires parasite Gal (galactose)/GalNAc (N-acetylgalactosamine) lectin-mediated adherence, target cell calcium influx, dephosphorylation and activation of caspase 3. Putative cytotoxic effector proteins such as amoebapores, proteases and various parasite membrane proteins have also been identified. Nonetheless the bona fide cytotoxic effector molecules remain unknown and it is unclear how the lethal hit is delivered. To better understand the basic mechanism of pathogenesis and to enable the development of new therapeutics, more work will be needed in order to determine how the parasite elicits host cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Bioterrorism
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Death
  • Cysteine Proteases / metabolism
  • Entamoeba histolytica / pathogenicity*
  • Entamoebiasis / epidemiology
  • Entamoebiasis / parasitology
  • Entamoebiasis / pathology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism


  • Ion Channels
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • amoebapore proteins, protozoan
  • Cysteine Proteases
  • Calcium