Vol.2, No.6, 589-594 (2010) Health
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
Crithidia deanei infection in normal and
dexamethasone–immunosuppressed Balb/c mice
Dilvani Oliveira Santos1*, Saulo C. Bourguignon1, Helena Carla Castro1, Alice Miranda2,3,
Rodrigo Tonioni Vieira1, Suzana Corte-Real4, Otílio Machado Pereira Bastos5
1Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Federal Fluminense University (UFF), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
*Corresponding Author: santosdilvani@gmail.com; lacelauff@yahoo.com.br
2Department of Mycobacteriosis, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
3Department of Pathology, FCM, University of State of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
4Laboratory of Biology Structural, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
5Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, Federal Fluminense University (UFF), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Received 18 October 2009; revised 21 December 2009; accepted 24 December 2009.
Monoxenous trypanossomatids protozoa are
not believed to cause in vivo infection in verte-
brate hosts throughout their life cycle. However,
there are reports mentioning some cases of HIV-
positive patients who have presented oppor-
tunistic infections caused by these protozoa.
Recently, we have demonstrated the in vitro in-
fection of mouse dermal fibroblasts by these
protozoa. The aim of the present work is to in-
vestigate the possibility of Crithidia deanei, a
endosymbiont-bearing monoxenous trypanos-
somatid, infect BALB/c mice under or not
Dexamethasone treatment. To attend it, distinct
gro- ups of adult BALB/c mice were immuno-
suppressed with 50 mg/kg of Dexamethasone.
This immunosuppressor was administered 24
hours before infection and daily, for 15 days
after C. deanei inoculation. Control groups: C.
deanei–inoculated animals but non-immuno-
suppressed and non-inoculated animals but
immunosuppressed were also used. Light Mi-
croscopy analysis revealed an infection process
characterized by the presence of the trypanos-
somatid inside dermal cells in the groups stud-
ied. The experimental inoculation resulted in a
non-lethal infection characterized by the pres-
ence of the trypanossomatid inside dermal cells
in the normal BALB/c mice, but notably, in the C.
deanei–inoculated immunosuppressed group.
These preliminary results lead to the following
conclusions: 1) C. deanei is able to infect nor-
mal BALB/c mice; 2) the immunosupressed
mice seemed to be more susceptible to the C.
deanei infection compared to the control group.
Besides C. deanei in dexamethasone-immuno-
suppressed mice provides a useful model for
studies of monoxenous trypanosomatids ‘in
vivo’ infection, resembling that one presumably
occurring in imunodeficient individuals with
Keywords: Monoxenous Trypanossomatid;
‘In Vivo’ Infection; Immunosuppression
Trypanossomatids parasitize a diverse range of hosts
including animals, plants and protists [1]. Some of them,
such as Trypanosoma and Leishmania, are heteroxenous
and are ethiological agents of serious diseases in humans
and experimental animals. Others are a monoxenous and
are mostly found in insects [2]. Monoxenous trypano-
somatids had never been confirmed as pathogenic in
vertebrate host. However, there is one report of trypano-
somatid, other than Trypanosoma and Leishmania, in
some opportunistic cutaneous infections in immuno-
compromised individuals [3] or those without any pre-
vious history of immunodepression [4]. In addition, our
group was pioneer in proving the infection of mouse
dermal fibroblasts by two different monoxenous try-
panosomatid species—Crithidia deanei and Herpetomo-
nas roitmani [5]. Although some of these trypanosomat-
ids were classified as a divergent member of the
Leishmania genus [6], a visceral leishmaniasis—like in-
fection was described in an HIV-positive patient as
caused by Leptomonas pulexsimulantis, a monoxenous
trypanosomatid found in dog’s flea [3], suggesting that
monoxenous protozoa can be considered opportunistic
agents in immunocompromised individuals. Therefore,
D. O. Santos et al. / HEALTH 2 (2010) 589-594
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
we investigated the ability of C. deanei to infect verte-
brate host. For that purpose, we have used BALB/c mice
under or not Dexamethasone treatment as an experi-
menttal model, based on a previous report of mouse
dermal fibroblasts infection by C. deanei and H. roit-
mani [5].
Parasite culture. Crithidia deanei was kindly provided
by Dr. M. Auxiliadora de Souza (Trypanosomatids Colll-
etion of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, Rio de Janeiro,
Brasil). The monoxenous were kept at 28°C with serial
passages at 48 h intervals in Warrens’ medium [7] con-
taining 10% fetal calf serum.
Experimental animal infection. Female 8-week old
BALB/c mice (Nau, Instituto de Biologia /UFF) were
used. Animals housed in standard conditions were
treated with Dexamethasone (Aziume) [8] 24 hours be-
fore infection with C. deanei. After infection with 107
2-day-old promastigotes C. deanei by subcutaneous
route (hind foot pad) —day 0, dexameth-asone 50 mg/kg
was administered daily, for 15 days. Four BALB/c mice
group were used: control without dexamethasone; con-
trol with dexamethasone; C. deanei–inoculated with
dexamethasone and C. deanei–inoculated without dexa-
methasone (Table 1). A determined number of mice
from each group were euthanasiated at 6 h, 1 d, 2 d, 3 d,
d 7 and d 15 after C. deanei inoculation. At each control
point, mice were weighted and parasite burdens were
determined in foot pad by histological analysis.
Histological analysis. Specimens of foot pad were
fixed in 10% buffered formalin. After dehydration in
graded ethanol, the tissues were embedded in paraffin
and, then, processed routinely as previously reported [9].
5 μm thick sections were obtained with a Leica micro-
tome. After that, they were collected on glass slides for
Hematoxilin-Eosin (HE) staining. The tissues samples
infected or not were observed at least 400 randomly se-
lected cells at 1000 × magnification, using a Zeiss
Clinical finding’s. No mortality, weight loss or clinical
signs were observed in mice infected with either dexam-
ethasone or not.
Macroscopy findings. Both groups C.deanei—inocu-
lated immunosuppressed mice and not inoculated immu-
nosuppressed mice displayed splenomegaly and heap-
Histological analysis. Through light microscopy the
morphological analysis just of the foot pad was done. At
necropsy, parasites were found in the foot pad from the
mice inoculated with C. deanei, regardless immunosup-
ressed or not. In the Dexamethasone treated-controls
groups (in the absence of C. deanei inoculation), no hist-
ological and inflammatory reations of the foot pad were
observed until d15 (Figure 2(e1)).
Surprisingly, in both experimental design-in the pres-
ence or not of dexamethasone, C. deanei was infective to
BALB/c mice (Figure 1 and 2), but, notably, in the imm-
unosupressed BALB/c mice (Figure 2).
Using light microscopy, it observed C.
deanei–infected mouse dermal cells after 24 h infection
(Figures 1(a1) and (a2)). On the 2nd post infection day,
C. deanei was also observed within mice dermal cells
(Figures 1(b1) and (b2)). and, between whiles, ex-
tracellular parasites were seen (Figure 1(b1)). A large
numbers of parasites were clearly present in the dermal
cells after the third post-infection day (Figures 1(c1) and
(c2)). Although it was possible to observe C. deanei
within the dermal cells, their mechanism of entrance is
still not clear as it can involve phagocytosis, penetration
in the cell or inducing membrane invagination. Anyway,
one mechanism of the C. deanei–infection might be
through sincicious formation from the host cells as the
image of the Figures 1(c1) and (c2) suggest. After 7
days of infection it still can observe parasites present in
dermal cells C. deanei–infected mice (Figures 1(d1) and
(d2)). At this time, some extracellular parasites were still
seen (Figures 1(d1) and (d2)).
After 15 days of infection, the light microscopy still
revealed intracellular forms of C. dean ei as well as some
extracellular forms of this parasite attached to the dermal
cells surface (Figures 1(e1) and (e2)).
In the controls groups (in the absence of C. deanei in-
oculation and presence of dexamethasone) no histology-
cal and inflammatory reactions of the foot pat were obs-
erved until day 15 (Figure 2(e1)).
Interestingly, the kinetics of infection in foot pad from
C. deanei–inoculated Dexamethasone immunosuppressed
mice showed parasites as early as 6h in the subcutaneous
tissues (Figures 2(a1) and (a2)). Notably, the most exu-
berant C. deanei–infection was observed in the presence
of Dexamethasone on the first day of infection (Figures
2(b1) and (b2). In the meanwhile, it can clearly observe
a C. deanei within a vacuole (Figure 2(b2)). On the foll-
owing day, it can still observe a large numbers of C.
deanei inside the cells (Figures 2(c1) and (c2)). In this
time of infection, similar to the findings on the previous
day, it can see that each parasite occupies its own vacu-
ole (Figures 2(c1) and (c2)). The image of C. deanei inside
D. O. Santos et al. / HEALTH 2 (2010) 589-594
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Table 1. Distribution of the experimental groups according to the animals number e the respective data of necropsy.
Animals number / time of necropsy
6 h 24 h 48 h 72 h day 7 day 15
I (C. deanei–inoculated DMT treated mice) 2 2 2 2 2 2
II (C. deanei–inoculated mice) 2 2 2 2 2 2
III (DMT treated mice) 1 1 1 1 1 1
IV (not DMT treated and not C. deanei inoculated mice)–Control Groups 1 1 1 1 1 1
Total 6 6 6 6 6 6
DMT-Dexamethasone 50 mg/kg.
In a total 36 animals were used.
The animals were euthanazed according to the rules of ethical comitê (Comissão de ética no uso de animais (CEUA- FIOCRUZ) P8317 ação:
1201 no. P024705).
Figure 1. Analysis by light microscopy showing C. deanei interaction with Balb/c mouse. Pictures were taken in a two different
plans from the same field (e.g. a1 and a2, etc…) in order to show whole extension of cell infection. Representative sections from skin
samples of 24h (a1 and a2); 48h (b1 and b2); 72h (c1 and c2); 7 days (d1 and d2) and 15 days (e1 and e2) C. deanei post-infection
(original magnification x 100). Grey Arrow shows some free C. deanei extracellular forms (b1; d1 and d2) as well as C. deanei ex-
tracellular forms attached to the dermal cells surface (e1 and e2). Dark arrow show multiple C. deanei-infected dermal cells. Note the
presence of sincicious formation in c1 and c2. N = Dermal cells nucleous.
a1 b1
d1 d2 e1
D. O. Santos et al. / HEALTH 2 (2010) 589-594
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
Figure 2. Analysis by light microscopy showing C. deanei interaction with dexamethasone immunosuppressed Balb/c mouse. Pic-
tures were taken in a two different plans from the same field (e.g. a1 and a2, etc…) in order to show whole extension of cell infection.
Representative sections from skin samples of 6h (a1 and a2); 24h (b1 and b2); 48h (c1 and c2); 72 h(d1 and d2) C. deanei
post-infection (original magnification x 100). Dark arrow show multiple strongly C. deaneiinfected dermal cells. Occasionaly, some
parasites seemed to be clearly envolved by a vacuole (a2, b2, c1, c2 and d2). Controls groups 15 days after dexamethasone treatment
or not (e1: dexamethasone-immunosuppressed Balb/c mouse; and e2: normal Balb/c mouse; original magnification (e1) × 50 and (e2)
× 10). N = Dermal cell nucleous.
vacuoles continues to be seen in the third day of inf-
ection (Figures 2(d1) and (d2)). Here some tissue degra-
dation was also observed (Figures 2(d1) and (d2)). Int-
erestingly, at the last days of infection time (7 and 15
days) in immunosupressed BALB/c mice, no parasites
were found contrasting to some tissue alterations which
were observed (data not shown).
Several clinical cases suggesting that monoxenous try-
panosomatids could be implicated in human infections
have been described in the last years. They have been
emerging as possible opportunistic pathogens in imuno-
compromised individuals. An unusual Leishmania-like
parasite was found in a HIV-positive patient with symp-
toms of Leishmania infection [10]. Despite the previ-
ous-mentioned data, genotypic and phenotypic charac-
terization showed that a flagellate parasite, found in the
bone marrow of a Brazilian HIV-positive patient pre-
senting a visceral leishamniasis-like reaction, was indeed
a monoxenous trypanosomatid, although no tissue inva-
sion could be detected [3]. Surprinsingly, a new case of
cutaneous infection by a presumed monoxenous try-
panosomatid was reported in the island of Martinique;
however, the individual had no history of immunosup-
pression, particularly HIV infection [4].
As stated earlier, Santos et al. (2004) first reported
that endosymbiont-bearing trypanosomatid C. deanei
and Herpetomonas roitmani are able to infect mouse
dermal-derived fibroblasts while Crithidia fasciculate
and Herpetomonas samuelpessoai (trypanossomatid
a1 b1 c1
a2 b2 c2
d1 d2 e1 e2
D. O. Santos et al. / HEALTH 2 (2010) 589-594
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endosimbiont free) did not infect. It is also of interest to
observe that both C. deanei and H. roitmani can be res-
istant to lysis mediated by the complement system. In
contrast, H. samuelpessoai and C. fasciculate displayed
100% of lysis after incubation with the complement sys-
tem [5]. The symbionts of C. deanei can influence the
phagocytosis of these parasites by macrophages as have
been presented by [11]. And, most recently, [12], re-
ported the infection of HIV-1-infected prim- ary human
macrophages by Blastocrithidia culicis (another endo-
symbiont-bearing monoxenous trypanosomatid). Our
present data further emphasize the large capacity of C.
deanei to infect vertebrate host and reinforce the idea
that monoxenous trypanosomatids present low host
specifity [2,13,14]. As demonstrated by our work, C.
deanei can readily infect normal BALB/c mice by sub-
cutaneous route and infection persist in the dermal cells
for 15 days. These are very interestingly results, since
we have previously reported the “in vitro” C. deanei
infection of dermal cells obtained from a different spe-
cie of mouse-the Swiss mouse [5]. Besides, as observed
in our present work, extracellular forms of C. deanei are
displayed in dermal tissue of the BALB/c mice (Figures
1(b1), (d1) and (d2)). This fact is interesting to be men-
tioned since it might suggest that, after intracellular C.
deanei cycle, these parasites leave the host cell and, after
that, appear in the extracellular medium (in a flagellate
form) to re-infect others dermal cells. Taken together,
these evidences reinforce the idea that monoxenous try-
panosomatids are able to infect and to survive once
reaching the vertebrate host. Over and again, we demon-
strated the infection of BALB/c mice, but, a much more
pronounced C. deanei–infection in a different experi-
mental design: in Dexamethasone-immunodepressed
mice (Figure 2). Through its limphopenic activity, spe-
cially about T cell production [15], the dexamethasone
can reduce the mechanisms of anti-parasite effect of
immune system and it might explain the increase of sus-
ceptibily to C. deanei infection observed in all immuno-
suppressed animals. The important survival of the para-
site in the murine experimental host contrast strikingly
with the weak clinical-pathological effects observed with
absence of lymphocytic infiltrates in parasitized foot pad.
This can be paralleled to that observed during human
visceral leishmaniasis where patent infections with para-
site dissemination are frequently associated with T cell
unresponsiveness to Leishmania antigen [16], while cure
is accompanied with restoration of the cellular response
[17,18]. Although monoxenous trypanosomatids in hu-
mans are more correlated to opportunistic parasites, our
work is pioneer in demonstrating that C. deanei is able
to infect normal mice (whithout dexamethasone treat-
ment). Our findings corroborate to the reports of [4],
who also found monoxenous tripanosomatids in a non-
immunocompromised individual though in a localized
skin lesion. Besides, our previous report demonstrated
the monoxenous trypanosomatid infection by dermal
cells isolated from skin of normal Swiss mice [5]. Nev-
erthless, our data shows that the infection of C. deanei
by dexamethasone-treated mice, although earlier proemi-
nent at the beginning of the time of infection (Figures
2(a),(b)), could not be followed longer, since the dermal
cells seemed to be degenerated (data not shown). These
results suggest that C. deanei might induce dermal cells
degeneration. Most recently, [19] reported that C. deanei
was able to induce fibroblasts lysis.
Besides the interaction of monoxenous trypanossom-
atids with vertebrate cells, the literature have also men-
tioned some results obtained from the interaction of
these trypanossomatids with invertebrate cells. Then,
[20,21], reported the colonization of Aedes aegypti mid-
gut by the endosymbiont-bearing trypanosomatid Blas-
tocrithidia culicis and C. deanei respectively.
Considering the colonization of hematophagous in-
sects by monoxenous trypanosomatids and their low host
specificity, human cases of infection with lower tryp-
anosomatids could have been largely underestimated
until now due to their morphological similarity with
Leishmania species. This emphasizes the relevance of
enzymatic characterization, whenever possible, of all
Leishmania-like parasites isolated from skin or visceral
lesions of patients with or not immunosuppression his-
tory. Taken together, these reports reinforce the idea of
the urgent need of elucidating the epidemiology of these
lower trypanosomatids that so far remains poorly known.
We thank FAPERJ, CNPq, UFF and FIOCRUZ for the finantial sup-
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