In vitro destruction of nerve cell cultures by Acanthamoeba spp.: a transmission and scanning electron microscopy study

J Parasitol. 1996 Oct;82(5):769-77.


Trophozoites of 4 species of Acanthamoeba were cytopathic for cultured rat B103 neuroblastoma cells. Cytopathogenicity was evaluated by a chromium release assay and by transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Acanthamoeba culbertsoni, Acanthamoeba castellanii, and Acanthamoeba polyphaga destroyed B103 target cells at 37 C as evidenced by the release of radiolabel. Acanthamoeba astronyxis did not produce cytopathology at 37 C but destroyed nerve cells at 25 C. Transmission and scanning electron microscopy of cocultures maintained at different time periods revealed that all species of Acanthamoeba exhibited long cylindrical structures, termed digipodia, which made contact with target cells. Following this effector cell-target cell contact, membrane blebbing on the nerve cells was observed. These events were followed either by lysis of target nerve cells or ingestion of the target cells via food-cups and their subsequent channeling into intracytoplasmic food vacuoles. Use of the TUNEL (TdT-mediated dUTP nick end labeling) technique indicated that approximately 40% of B103 cells incubated with A. culbertsoni, 20% of B103 cells cocultured with A. castellanii or with A. polyphaga, and less than 1% of B103 cells incubated with A. astronyxis at 37 C were apoptotic after 24 hr of coculture. Studies using electron microscopy indicated that Acanthamoeba trophozoites destroyed nerve cells both by cytolysis and by ingestion of whole nerve cells via food-cups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acanthamoeba / physiology*
  • Acanthamoeba / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Chromium Radioisotopes
  • DNA Nucleotidylexotransferase
  • Kinetics
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Neurons / parasitology
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Temperature
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Chromium Radioisotopes
  • DNA Nucleotidylexotransferase