Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Francine Marciano-Cabral


Naegleria fowleri (N. fowleri) and Naegleria lovaniensis (N. lovaniensis) are closely related amebae found in the environment. N. fowleri causes Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), a fatal disease of the central nervous system, while N. lovaniensis is nonpathogenic. N. fowleri infection occurs when amebae enter the nasal passages, and migrate to the brain. The molecular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of PAM are not well-defined. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to define phenotypic characteristics that may be functionally linked to the pathogenicity associated with N. fowleri. Studies revealed that N. fowleri has a faster growth rate and is more resistant to complement-mediated lysis when compared to N. lovaniensis. Additionally, contact-independent cytotoxicity was observed only for N. fowleri. The ability to invade tissues can be a characteristic that distinguishes pathogens from nonpathogens. Therefore, adhesion to extracellular matrix components (ECM), laminin-1, fibronectin, and collagen I, was assessed. N. fowleri exhibited a higher level of adhesion to ECM components and was shown to invade tri-dimensional ECM scaffolds (matrigel and collagen I) to a greater extent than N. lovaniensis. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that N. fowleri attached on ECM substrata exhibited a spread-out appearance that included the presence of focal adhesion-like structures. Attachment of N. fowleri to ECM components was decreased significantly when amebae were pretreated with trypsin, suggesting a role for a surface protein in this process. Pretreatment of N. fowleri amebae with periodate, a sugar oxidant, led to a decrease in attachment to laminin-1 and fibronectin suggesting that the surface component contained a sugar moiety. Western immunoblotting revealed two integrin-like proteins for both species. However, one with a molecular mass of approximately 70 kDa, was detected at a higher level for N. fowleri. Confocal microscopy indicated that the integrin-like proteins co-localized to the focal adhesion-like structures. An anti-integrin antibody decreased adhesion of N. fowleri to ECM components. Zymographic analysis demonstrated differential expression of proteases occurs when N. fowleri and N. lovaniensis invade ECM components using an in vitro invasion assay. These results indicate a distinction in adhesion to, and invasion of, extracellular matrix proteins between N. fowleri and N. lovaniensis.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2011