Parasite-mediated remodeling of the host microfilament cytoskeleton enables rapid egress of Trypanosoma cruzi following membrane rupture

Eden R. Ferreira, Alexis Bonfim-Melo, Barbara A. Burleigh, Jaime A. Costales, Kevin M. Tyler, Renato A. Mortara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Downloads (Pure)


Chagas' disease arises as a direct consequence of the lytic cycle of Trypanosoma cruzi in the mammalian host. While invasion is well studied for this pathogen, study of egress has been largely neglected. Here, we provide the first description of T. cruzi egress documenting a coordinated mechanism by which T. cruzi engineers its escape from host cells in which it has proliferated and which is essential for maintenance of infection and pathogenesis. Our results indicate that this parasite egress is a sudden event involving coordinated remodeling of host cell cytoskeleton and subsequent rupture of host cell plasma membrane. We document that host cells maintain plasma membrane integrity until immediately prior to parasite release and report the sequential transformation of the host cell's actin cytoskeleton from normal meshwork in noninfected cells to spheroidal cages-a process initiated shortly after amastigogenesis. Quantification revealed gradual reduction in F-actin over the course of infection, and using cytoskeletal preparations and electron microscopy, we were able to observe disruption of the F-actin proximal to intracellular trypomastigotes. Finally, Western blotting experiments suggest actin degradation driven by parasite proteases, suggesting that degradation of cytoskeleton is a principal component controlling the initiation of egress. Our results provide the first description of the cellular mechanism that regulates the lytic component of the T. cruzi lytic cycle. We show graphically how it is possible to preserve the envelope of host cell plasma membrane during intracellular proliferation of the parasite and how, in cells packed with amastigotes, differentiation into trypomastigotes may trigger sudden egress. IMPORTANCE Understanding how Trypanosoma cruzi interacts with host cells has been transformed by high-quality studies that have examined in detail the mechanisms of T. cruzi host cell invasion. In contrast, little is known about the latter stages of the parasite's lytic cycle: how parasites egress and thereby sustain round after round of infection. Our results show that once in the host cell cytosol and having undergone amastigogenesis, T. cruzi begins to alter the host cell cytoskeleton, remodeling normal F-actin meshworks into encapsulating spheroidal cages. Filamentous actin diminishes over the course of the lytic cycle, and just prior to egress, the filaments comprising the cages are severely degraded where adjacent to the parasites. We conclude that sudden egress follows breach of the containment afforded by the actin cytoskeleton and subsequent plasma membrane rupture-a process that when understood in molecular detail may serve as a target for future novel therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00988-21
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2021


  • Chagas’ disease
  • Trypanosoma cruzi
  • amastigote
  • cell invasion
  • egress
  • host-parasite relationship
  • lytic cycle
  • microfilament
  • protozoan
  • stage-regulated
  • trypomastigote

Cite this