Higher Caspase-like activity in symptomatic isolates of Blastocystis spp

Dhurga D. Balakrishnan, Suresh G. Kumar

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Background: Biochemical evidence of a caspase-like execution pathway has been demonstrated in a variety of protozoan parasites, including Blastocystis spp. The distinct differences in the phenotypic characterization reported previously have prompted us to compare the rate of apoptosis in Blastocystis spp. isolated from individuals who were symptomatic and asymptomatic. In the current study, we analysed the caspase activation involved in PCD mediated by a cytotoxic drug, (metronidazole) in both symptomatic & asymptomatic isolates. Methods. Apoptosis was induced in Blastocystis spp. by treating cultures of symptomatic and asymptomatic isolates of 3 sub-types namely 1, 3 and 5 with two different concentrations, 0.1 and 0.0001 mg/ml of metronidazole (with and without pre-treatment with a pan-caspase inhibitor, zVAD.fmk). The experiment was repeated to assess the number of apoptotic cells in all the isolates of both conditions. Results: Symptomatic isolates of subtype 3 (without pre-treatment with a pan-caspase inhibitor, zVAD.fmk) showed high fluorescence intensity for active caspase-like proteases [0.0001 mg/ml, 88% (p < 0.001) at 0.1 mg/ml, 70% (p < 0.001)] at the 72nd hour in vitro culture in comparison with asymptomatic isolates [0.0001 mg/ml, 65%, at 0.1 mg/ml, 55%]. The number of apoptotic cells was higher [0.0001 mg/ml, 89% (p < 0.001) and at 0.1 mg/ml, 70% (p < 0.001)] at the 72nd hour of in vitro culture in comparison with asymptomatic isolates [0.0001 mg/ml, 66% (p < 0.001) and at 0.1 mg/ml, 45% (p < 0.01)]. Cells treated with metronidazole in the presence of zVAD.fmk showed less than 10% caspase activation. Conclusion: The high number of symptomatic cells expressing active caspase-like proteases and becoming apoptotic compared to asymptomatic cells clearly demonstrates that the response to metronidazole treatment is isolate dependent. Hence this justifies the conflicting reports on the curative success rates when treated with this drug. The study has also created a need to identify apoptosis effectors in Blastocystis spp of different isolates especially as it was shown that apoptosis was sub-typed related. These findings can be exploited for the development of diagnostic markers and novel therapeutic drugs to enhance the effectiveness of the diagnosis and treatment of the patients infected with Blastocystis spp.

Original languageEnglish
Article number219
Number of pages7
JournalParasites & Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Asymptomatic
  • Blastocystis spp
  • Caspase-like proteases
  • Metronidazole
  • Programmed cell death
  • Symptomatic

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