Mechanisms of cellular invasion by intracellular parasites

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2014 Apr;71(7):1245-63. doi: 10.1007/s00018-013-1491-1. Epub 2013 Nov 13.


Numerous disease-causing parasites must invade host cells in order to prosper. Collectively, such pathogens are responsible for a staggering amount of human sickness and death throughout the world. Leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, toxoplasmosis, and malaria are neglected diseases and therefore are linked to socio-economical and geographical factors, affecting well-over half the world's population. Such obligate intracellular parasites have co-evolved with humans to establish a complexity of specific molecular parasite-host cell interactions, forming the basis of the parasite's cellular tropism. They make use of such interactions to invade host cells as a means to migrate through various tissues, to evade the host immune system, and to undergo intracellular replication. These cellular migration and invasion events are absolutely essential for the completion of the lifecycles of these parasites and lead to their for disease pathogenesis. This review is an overview of the molecular mechanisms of protozoan parasite invasion of host cells and discussion of therapeutic strategies, which could be developed by targeting these invasion pathways. Specifically, we focus on four species of protozoan parasites Leishmania, Trypanosoma cruzi, Plasmodium, and Toxoplasma, which are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chagas Disease / immunology
  • Chagas Disease / parasitology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Leishmania / immunology
  • Leishmania / pathogenicity
  • Leishmania / physiology
  • Leishmaniasis / immunology
  • Leishmaniasis / parasitology
  • Malaria / immunology
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Parasites / pathogenicity
  • Parasites / physiology*
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • Phagocytes / parasitology
  • Plasmodium / immunology
  • Plasmodium / pathogenicity
  • Plasmodium / physiology
  • Protozoan Infections / immunology
  • Protozoan Infections / parasitology*
  • Toxoplasma / immunology
  • Toxoplasma / pathogenicity
  • Toxoplasma / physiology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / immunology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / pathogenicity
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / physiology