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Summary

Developmental switching between life-cycle stages is a common feature among many pathogenic organisms. The protozoan parasite Entamoeba histolytica converts between cysts (essential for disease transmission) and trophozoites (responsible for tissue invasion). Identification of genes involved in the developmental pathway has been severely hindered by the inability to generate E. histolytica cysts in vitro. Using parasite strains derived from recent human infections and whole-genome transcriptional profiling, we determined that 1439 genes (∼15% of annotated genes) were potentially developmentally regulated. Genes enriched in cysts (672 in total) included cysteine proteinases and transmembrane protein kinases, which may be involved in signal transduction. Genes enriched in trophozoites (767 in total) included genes typically thought of as important in tissue invasion by trophozoites, including the Gal/GalNAc lectin light subunit and cysteine protease 1. Putative regulators of differentiation including possible G-protein coupled receptors, signal transduction proteins and transcription factors were identified. A number of E. histolytica stage-specific genes were also developmentally regulated in the reptilian parasite E. invadens, indicating that they likely have conserved functions in Entamoeba development. These advances lay the groundwork for dissection of the molecular signals that initiate stage conversion and development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic measures targeting E. histolytica cysts.