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Mucosal defences against Giardia


Lars Eckmann, University of California, San Diego, Department of Medicine 0623D, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0623, USA (e-mail:


Giardia lamblia (syn. G. duodenalis or G. intestinalis), the causative agent of giardiasis, is one of the most common causes worldwide of intestinal infections in humans. Symptomatic infection is characterized by diarrhoea, epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss, yet many infections are asymptomatic. The protozoan, unicellular parasite resides in the lumen and attaches to the epithelium and overlying mucus layers but does not invade the mucosa and causes little or no mucosal inflammation. Giardiasis is normally transient, indicating the existence of effective host defences, although re-infections can occur, which may be related to differences in infecting parasites and/or incomplete immune protection. Mucosal defences against Giardia must act in the small intestinal lumen in the absence of induction by classical inflammatory mediators. Secretory IgA antibodies have a central role in anti-giardial defence. B cell-independent mechanisms also exist and can contribute to eradication of the parasite, although their identity and physiological importance are poorly understood currently. Possible candidates are nitric oxide, antimicrobial peptides such as Paneth cell α-defensins, and lactoferrin. Elucidation of the key anti-giardial effector mechanisms will be important for selecting the best adjuvants in the rational development of vaccination strategies against Giardia.