Background: The pathogenesis of intestinal cryptosporidiosis is not known. Previous studies have shown that the intensity of infection varies between patients. The hypothesis of this study is that intestinal injury is related to the intensity of infection.
Methods: The histological abnormalities associated with Cryptosporidium infection were evaluated in duodenal biopsy specimens from 18 patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome-associated cryptosporidiosis. The intensity of Cryptosporidium infection was assessed histologically in all patients as the percentage of mucosa covered by organisms and by quantitation of oocyst excretion in the stools of 14 patients.
Results: Duodenal biopsy specimens from 13 patients (72%) showed normal villous architecture. In these patients, the inflammatory component of the lamina propria was either normal or moderately increased. This increase consisted mostly of lymphocytes and plasma cells. Five of 18 patients (28%) had flattening of the mucosa associated with a prominent neutrophilic infiltrate. The intensity of infection in patients with villous flattening as measured from biopsy specimens and stool was significantly higher than in those without flattening (92% vs. 12% mucosa occupied with organisms; 738 x 10(3) vs. 199 x 10(3) oocyst/mL stool) (P < 0.004 in both cases).
Conclusions: Most patients with intestinal Cryptosporidium infection had normal duodenal villous architecture. Severe duodenal morphological abnormalities, including flattening of the villi, were associated with high-intensity infections.