Giardia co-infection promotes the secretion of antimicrobial peptides beta-defensin 2 and trefoil factor 3 and attenuates attaching and effacing bacteria-induced intestinal disease

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 16;12(6):e0178647. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178647. eCollection 2017.


Our understanding of polymicrobial gastrointestinal infections and their effects on host biology remains incompletely understood. Giardia duodenalis is an ubiquitous intestinal protozoan parasite infecting animals and humans. Concomitant infections with Giardia and other gastrointestinal pathogens commonly occur. In countries with poor sanitation, Giardia infection has been associated with decreased incidence of diarrheal disease and fever, and reduced serum inflammatory markers release, via mechanisms that remain obscure. This study analyzed Giardia spp. co-infections with attaching and effacing (A/E) pathogens, and assessed whether and how the presence of Giardia modulates host responses to A/E enteropathogens, and alters intestinal disease outcome. In mice infected with the A/E pathogen Citrobacter rodentium, co-infection with Giardia muris significantly attenuated weight loss, macro- and microscopic signs of colitis, bacterial colonization and translocation, while concurrently enhancing the production and secretion of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) mouse β-defensin 3 and trefoil factor 3 (TFF3). Co-infection of human intestinal epithelial cells (Caco-2) monolayers with G. duodenalis trophozoites and enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) enhanced the production of the AMPs human β-defensin 2 (HBD-2) and TFF3; this effect was inhibited with treatment of G. duodenalis with cysteine protease inhibitors. Collectively, these results suggest that Giardia infections are capable of reducing enteropathogen-induced colitis while increasing production of host AMPs. Additional studies also demonstrated that Giardia was able to directly inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. These results reveal novel mechanisms whereby Giardia may protect against gastrointestinal disease induced by a co-infecting A/E enteropathogen. Our findings shed new light on how microbial-microbial interactions in the gut may protect a host during concomitant infections.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Coinfection / metabolism*
  • Coinfection / microbiology
  • Coinfection / parasitology
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / parasitology
  • Giardia lamblia*
  • Giardiasis / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Trefoil Factor-3 / metabolism*
  • beta-Defensins / metabolism*


  • Defb2 protein, mouse
  • TFF3 protein, human
  • Tff3 protein, mouse
  • Trefoil Factor-3
  • beta-Defensins

Grant support

Funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Discovery Grant #183681-2011,, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (NSERC CREATE), #413888-2012,, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) # 12033,, Crohn’s Colitis Canada (CCC) grant in aid of research, #20142017.