Cysteine protease activity of feline Tritrichomonas foetus promotes adhesion-dependent cytotoxicity to intestinal epithelial cells. Academic Article uri icon


  • Trichomonads are obligate protozoan parasites most renowned as venereal pathogens of the reproductive tract of humans and cattle. Recently, a trichomonad highly similar to bovine venereal Tritrichomonas foetus but having a unique tropism for the intestinal tract was recognized as a significant cause of colitis in domestic cats. Despite a high prevalence, worldwide distribution, and lack of consistently effective drugs for treatment of the infection, the cellular mechanisms of T. foetus pathogenicity in the intestinal tract have not been examined. The aims of this study were to determine the pathogenic effect of feline T. foetus on porcine intestinal epithelial cells, the dependence of T. foetus pathogenicity on adhesion of T. foetus to the intestinal epithelium, and the identity of mediators responsible for these effects. Using an in vitro coculture approach to model feline T. foetus infection of the intestinal epithelium, these studies demonstrate that T. foetus promotes a direct contact-dependent activation of intestinal epithelial cell apoptosis signaling and progressive monolayer destruction. Moreover, these pathological effects were demonstrated to be largely dependent on T. foetus cell-associated cysteine protease activity. Finally, T. foetus cysteine proteases were identified as enabling cytopathic effects by promoting adhesion of T. foetus to the intestinal epithelium. The present studies are the first to examine the cellular mechanisms of pathogenicity of T. foetus toward the intestinal epithelium and support further investigation of the cysteine proteases as virulence factors in vivo and as potential therapeutic targets for ameliorating the pathological effects of intestinal trichomonosis.

published proceedings

  • Infect Immun

author list (cited authors)

  • Tolbert, M. K., Stauffer, S. H., Brand, M. D., & Gookin, J. L.

citation count

  • 20

complete list of authors

  • Tolbert, MK||Stauffer, SH||Brand, MD||Gookin, JL

editor list (cited editors)

  • Appleton, J. A.

publication date

  • July 2014