Pathology of microsporidiosis: emerging parasitic infections in patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1996 Feb;120(2):173-88.


Objective: Microsporidiosis is a group of rapidly emerging protozoan infections that have thus far been reported predominantly from severely immunosuppressed persons with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The four genera that have been identified in AIDS patients (Enterocytozoon, Encephalitozoon, Septata, and Pleistophora) are an increasingly common source of both localized and disseminated infections. However, the clinical and pathologic features of these agents are being described with such rapidity that many pathologists are unaware of the histologic, immunologic, and molecular methods for diagnosing these infections. This article summarizes the clinical and morphologic spectrum of the microsporidian species that infect patients with AIDS. Additionally, the role of ultrastructural, immunologic, tissue culture, and molecular techniques for the diagnosis of microsporidian infections are discussed.

Data sources: Clinical and pathologic findings were obtained from patients with AIDS who were evaluated for microsporidian infections at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Selected laboratory studies were performed at the Division of Parasitic Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the Department of Physiology at Morehouse University. Additionally, some cases were sent for consultation to the Infectious Disease Pathology service at Emory University. These data were combined with the published studies of microsporidian infection from the medical literature.

Data synthesis: The pathologic appearance of microsporidian infections in each major organ system (ocular, respiratory, genitourinary, gastrointestinal) is illustrated using routine and special histochemistry and immunofluorescence. The differential diagnostic features of the four genera of microsporidia infecting AIDS patients are illustrated using transmission and scanning electron micrographs from biopsy, autopsy, and tissue culture materials. Cytologic evaluation of body tissues is emphasized as a sensitive method for microsporidian diagnosis.

Conclusions: Microsporidian infections can be expected to remain an increasingly important cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with AIDS. It is important that pathologists and microbiologists become acquainted with the clinicopathologic spectrum of these emerging protozoal infections, ensuring timely diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Animals
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microsporida*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protozoan Infections / complications*
  • Protozoan Infections / parasitology
  • Protozoan Infections / pathology