A review of the development of two types of human skeletal muscle infections from microsporidia associated with pathology in invertebrates and cold-blooded vertebrates

Ann Cali, Louis M. Weiss, Peter M. Takvorian

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31 Scopus citations


Traditionally, the Microsporidia were primarily studied in insects and fish. There were only a few human cases of microsporidiosis reported until the advent of AIDS, when the number of human microsporidian infections dramatically increased and the importance of these new pathogens to medicine became evident. Over a dozen different kinds of microsporidia infecting humans have been reported. While some of these infections were identified in new genera (Enterocytozoon, Vittaforma), there were also infections identified from established genera such as Pleistophora and Encephalitozoon. The genus Pleistophora, originally erected for a species described from fish muscle, and the genus Encephalitozoon, originally described from disseminated infection in rabbits, suggested a link between human infections and animals. In the 1980's, three Pleistophora sp. infections were described from human skeletal muscle without life cycles presented. Subsequently, the genus Trachipleistophora was established for a human-infecting microsporidium with developmental differences from species of the genus Pleistophora. Thus, the existence of a true Pleistophora sp. or spp. in humans was put into question. We have demonstrated the life-cycle stages of the original Pleistophora sp. (Ledford et al. 1985) infection from human muscle, confirming the existence of a true Pleistophora species in humans, P. ronneafiei Cali et Takvorian, 2003, the first demonstrated in a mammalian host. Another human infection, caused by a parasite from invertebrates, was Brachiola algerae (Vavra et Undeen, 1970) Lowman, Takvorian et Cali, 2000. The developmental stages of this human muscle-infecting microsporidium demonstrate morphologically what we have also confirmed by molecular means, that B. algerae, the mosquito parasite, is the causative agent of this human skeletal muscle infection. B. algerae had previously been demonstrated in humans but only in surface infections, skin and eye. The diagnostic features of B. algerae and P. ronneafiei infections in human skeletal muscle are presented. While Encephalitozoon cuniculi has been known as both an animal (mammal) and human parasite, the idea of human microsporidial infections derived from cold-blooded vertebrates and invertebrates has only been suggested by microsporidian phylogeny based on small subunit ribosomal DNA sequences but has not been appreciated. The morphological data presented here demonstrate these relationships. Additionally, water, as a link that connects microsporidial spores in the environment to potential host organisms, is diagrammatically presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
JournalFolia Parasitologica
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 2005


  • Brachiola algerae
  • Myositis in humans
  • Pleistophora ronneafiei
  • Trachipleistophora hominis
  • Water transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology


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