Microsporidiosis: molecular and diagnostic aspects

Adv Parasitol. 1998:40:351-95. doi: 10.1016/s0065-308x(08)60127-x.


The term 'microsporidia' is a nontaxonomic designation which is used to refer to a group of intracellular parasites belonging to the phylum Microspora. These eukaryotic obligate intracellular protozoans have been described infecting every major animal group, especially insects, fish and mammals. They are important agricultural parasites in commercially important insects, fish, laboratory rodents, rabbits, fur-bearing animals, and primates. There is now an increasing recognition of microsporidia as important opportunistic pathogens in persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Microsporidia possess ribosomes with features resembling prokaryotes. Phylogenetic analysis of the rRNA sequence from several of the microsporidia suggests that these organisms were early branches in the eukaryotic evolutionary line. The data on these molecular phylogenetic relationships are reviewed in this paper. Inroads have recently been made into the molecular biology of these organisms and these data are also presented. Diagnosis of microsporidia infection from stool examination is possible and has replaced biopsy as the initial diagnostic procedure in many laboratories. These staining techniques can be difficult, however, due to the small size of the spores. The specific identification of microsporidian species has classically depended on ultrastructural examination. With the cloning of the rRNA genes from the human pathogenic microsporidia it has been possible to apply polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques for the diagnosis of microsporidial infection at the species level. Both staining and PCR techniques for the diagnosis of microsporidia are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • Microsporida / classification
  • Microsporida / genetics
  • Microsporida / isolation & purification*
  • Microsporidiosis / diagnosis*
  • Phylogeny


  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • DNA, Protozoan