Apoptosis as a mechanism of cytolysis of tumor cells by a pathogenic free- living amoeba

H. Alizadeh, M. S. Pidherney, James P McCulley, Jerry Y Niederkorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that trophozoites of the pathogenic free- living amoeba Acanthamoeba castellanii rapidly lysed a variety of tumor cells in vitro. Tumor cells undergoing parasite-mediated lysis displayed characteristic cell membrane blebbing reminiscent of apoptosis. The present investigation examined the role of apoptosis (programmed cell death) in Acanthamoeba-mediated tumor cell lysis. The results showed that more than 70% of tumor cell DNA was fragmented following exposure to Acanthamoeba cell extracts. By contrast, only 7% of untreated control cells underwent DNA fragmentation. DNA fragmentation increased significantly in a dose-dependent fashion following concentration of the parasite extract. Apoptosis was also confirmed by DNA ladder formation. Characteristic DNA ladders, consisting of multimers of approximately 180 to 200 bp, were produced by tumor cells exposed to Acanthamoeba cell extracts. The morphology of tumor cell lysis was examined by light and scanning electron microscopy. Tumor cells exposed to parasite extract displayed morphological features characteristic of apoptosis including cell shrinkage, cell membrane blebbing, formation of apoptotic bodies, and nuclear condensation. By contrast, similar effects were not found in tumor cells exposed to extract similarly prepared from normal mammalian cells (i.e., human keratocytes). The results suggest that at least one species of pathogenic free-living amoeba is able to lyse tumor cells by a process that culminates in apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1298-1303
Number of pages6
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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