T cell response and persistence of the microsporidia

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2012 May;36(3):748-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2011.00318.x. Epub 2011 Dec 22.


The microsporidia are a diverse phylum of obligate intracellular parasites related to the fungi that cause significant and sometimes life-threatening disease in immune-compromised hosts, such as AIDS and organ transplant patients. More recently, their role in causing pathology in immune-competent populations has also been appreciated. Interestingly, in several instances, the microsporidia have been shown to persist in their hosts long term, causing at opposite ends of the spectrum either an intractable chronic diarrhea and wasting in patients with advanced-stage AIDS or asymptomatic shedding of spores in healthy populations. Much remains to be studied regarding the immune response to these pathogens, but it seems clear that CD8+ T cells are essential in clearing infection. However, in the infection models examined thus far, the role for CD4+ T cells is unclear at best. Here, we discuss the possible reasons and ramifications of what may be a weak primary CD4+ T cell response against Encephalitozoon cuniculi. Given the central role of the CD4+ T cell in other models of adaptive immunity, a better appreciation of its role in responding to microsporidia may provide insight into the survival strategies of these pathogens, which allow them to persist in hosts of varied immune status.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Microsporidia / immunology*
  • Microsporidia / pathogenicity*
  • Microsporidiosis / immunology*