Microsporidia: Obligate intracellular pathogens within the fungal kingdom

Bing Han, Louis M. Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


Microsporidia are obligate intracellular pathogens related to Fungi. These organisms have a unique invasion organelle, the polar tube, which upon appropriate environmental stimulation rapidly discharges out of the spore, pierces a host cell's membrane, and serves as a conduit for sporoplasm passage into the host cell. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that microsporidia are related to the Fungi, being either a basal branch or sister group. Despite the description of microsporidia over 150 years ago, we still lack an understanding of the mechanism of invasion, including the role of various polar tube proteins, spore wall proteins, and host cell proteins in the formation and function of the invasion synapse. Recent advances in ultrastructural techniques are helping to better define the formation and functioning of the invasion synapse. Over the past 2 decades, proteomic approaches have helped define polar tube proteins and spore wall proteins as well as the importance of posttranslational modifications such as glycosylation in the functioning of these proteins, but the absence of genetic techniques for the manipulation of microsporidia has hampered research on the function of these various proteins. The study of the mechanism of invasion should provide fundamental insights into the biology of these ubiquitous intracellular pathogens that can be integrated into studies aimed at treating or controlling microsporidiosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberFUNK-0018-2016
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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