To determine whether trophozoites and lysates of pathogenic Acanthamoeba spp. induce apoptosis in primary-culture microglial cells, transmission electron microscopic (TEM) examinations, assessment of DNA fragmentation by agarose gel electrophoresis, and the TdT-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling assay were performed. When a trophozoite of pathogenic Acanthamoeba culbertsoni came in contact with a microglial cell, the digipodium was observed by TEM. Nuclear chromatin condensation was observed in 10% of microglial cells, while it was not revealed when they were cocultured with weakly pathogenic Acanthamoeba royreba trophozoites. DNA fragmentation in microglial cells cocultured with the A. culbertsoni lysate was detected by electrophoresis, showing DNA ladder formation, whereas it was hardly observed in microglial cells cocultured with A. royreba. DNA fragmentation of microglial cells was also confirmed by flow cytometry analysis. The fluorescence of TdT-stained apoptotic bodies became intensely visible with microglial cells cocultured with the A. culbertsoni lysate. In contrast, with microglial cells cocultured with the A. royreba lysate, only a background level of fluorescence of TdT-stained apoptotic bodies was detected. These results suggest that some rat microglial cells cocultured with pathogenic A. culbertsoni undergo cytopathic changes which show the characteristics of the apoptotic process, such as nuclear condensation and DNA fragmentation
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