Biology of microsporidian species infecting mammals

Adv Parasitol. 1998;40:283-320. doi: 10.1016/s0065-308x(08)60125-6.


Microsporidia (phylum Microspora) are obligate intracellular protozoan parasites that infect a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. Over 1000 species have been classified into approximately 100 genera, and at least 13 species have been reported to infect mammals. Phylogenetically, the microsporidia are early eukaryotes because they have a true nucleus, possess prokaryote-like ribosomes, and lack mitochondria. The species that infect mammals are relatively small, measuring 2.0-7.0 microns long and 1.5-5.0 microns wide. The mature organism is the spore, which is enclosed by a chitinous coat, making it relatively resistant to the environment. Infections often occur by fecal-oral or urinary-oral transmission, although vertical transmission is quite common in the carnivores. Host cells become infected through a process of germination in which the spore propels its contents through the everting and unwinding polar filament into the host cell. The polar filament is unique to the microsporidia. With a few exceptions, microsporidiosis is typically chronic and subclinical in immunologically competent hosts. Young carnivores infected with microsporidia, however, develop severe and sometimes lethal renal disease, and immunodeficient laboratory animals (e.g. athymic and SCID mice) develop ascites and die from microsporidiosis. This review describes the morphology, life cycle, taxonomy, and host-parasite relationships of the species of microsporidia that infect mammals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Mammals / parasitology
  • Microsporida* / classification
  • Microsporida* / growth & development
  • Microsporida* / physiology
  • Microsporidiosis / veterinary*