Anaerobic bacterial metabolism in the ancient eukaryote Giardia duodenalis

Int J Parasitol. 1998 Jan;28(1):149-64. doi: 10.1016/s0020-7519(97)00172-0.


The protozoan parasite, Giardia duodenalis, shares many metabolic and genetic attributes of the bacteria, including fermentative energy metabolism which relies heavily on pyrophosphate rather than adenosine triphosphate and as a result contains two typically bacterial glycolytic enzymes which are pyrophosphate dependent. Pyruvate decarboxylation and subsequent electron transport to as yet unidentified anaerobic electron acceptors relies on a eubacterial-like pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase and an archaebacterial/eubacterial-like ferredoxin. The presence of another 2-ketoacid oxidoreductase (with a preference for alpha-ketobutyrate) and multiple ferredoxins in Giardia is also a trait shared with the anaerobic bacteria. Giardia pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase is distinct from the pyruvate dehydrogenase multienzyme complex invariably found in mitochondria. This is consistent with a lack of mitochondria, citric acid cycle, oxidative phosphorylation and glutathione in Giardia. Giardia duodenalis actively consumes oxygen and yet lacks the conventional mechanisms of oxidative stress management, including superoxide dismutase, catalase, peroxidase, and glutathione cycling, which are present in most eukaryotes. In their place Giardia contains a prokaryotic H2O-producing NADH oxidase, a membrane-associated NADH peroxidase, a broad-range prokaryotic thioredoxin reductase-like disulphide reductase and the low molecular weight thiols, cysteine, thioglycolate, sulphite and coenzyme A. NADH oxidase is a major component of the electron transport pathway of Giardia which, in conjunction with disulphide reductase, protects oxygen-labile proteins such as ferredoxin and pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase against oxidative stress by maintaining a reduced intracellular environment. As the terminal oxidase, NADH oxidase provides a means of removing excess H+, thereby enabling continued pyruvate decarboxylation and the resultant production of acetate and adenosine triphosphate. A further example of the bacterial-like metabolism of Giardia is the utilisation of the amino acid arginine as an energy source. Giardia contain the arginine dihydrolase pathway, which occurs in a number of anaerobic prokaryotes, but not in other eukaryotes apart from trichomonads and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The pathway includes substrate level phosphorylation and is sufficiently active to make a major contribution to adenosine triphosphate production. Two enzymes of the pathway, arginine deiminase and carbamate kinase, are rare in eukaryotes and do not occur in higher animals. Arginine is transported into the trophozoite via a bacterial-like arginine:ornithine antiport. Together these metabolic pathways in Giardia provide a wide range of potential drug targets for future consideration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / metabolism*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Electron Transport
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Giardia / genetics
  • Giardia / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygen Consumption


  • Amino Acids