Open Access Research article

The Entamoeba histolytica genome: primary structure and expression of proteolytic enzymes

Manuela Tillack1, Laura Biller1, Henriette Irmer1, Michelle Freitas2, Maria A Gomes2, Egbert Tannich1 and Iris Bruchhaus1*

Author affiliations

1 Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Bernhard Nocht Str. 74, 20359 Hamburg, Germany

2 University of Minas Gerais, Dept. Parasitologia, ICB-UFMG, Laboratorio Amebiase, Av. Antonio Carlos, 6627, 31270-901 Belo Horizonte, Brasil

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2007, 8:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-170

Published: 14 June 2007



A number of studies have shown that peptidases and in particular cysteine peptidases constitute major pathogenicity factors in Entamoeba histolytica. Recent studies have suggested that a considerable number of genes coding for proteolytic enzymes are present within the E. histolytica genome and questions remain about the mode of expression of the various molecules.


By homology search within the recently published amoeba genome, we identified a total of 86 E. histolytica genes coding for putative peptidases, including 46 recently described peptidase genes. In total these comprise (i) 50 cysteine peptidases of different families but most of which belong to the C1 papain superfamily, (ii) 22 different metallo peptidases from at least 11 different families, (iii) 10 serine peptidases belonging to 3 different families, and (iv) 4 aspartic peptidases of only one family. Using an oligonucleotide microarray, peptidase gene expression patterns of 7 different E. histolytica isolates as well as of heat stressed cells were analysed. A total of 21 out of 79 amoeba peptidase genes analysed were found to be significantly expressed under standard axenic culture conditions whereas the remaining are not expressed or at very low levels only. In heat-stressed cells the expression of 2 and 3 peptidase genes, respectively, were either decreased or increased. Only minor differences were observed between the various isolates investigated, despite the fact that these isolates were originated from asymptomatic individuals or from patients with various forms of amoebic diseases.


Entamoeba histolytica possesses a large number of genes coding for proteolytic enzymes. Under standard culture conditions or upon heat-stress only a relatively small number of these genes is significantly expressed and only very few variations become apparent between various clinical E. histolytica isolates, calling into question the importance of these enzymes in E. histolytica pathogenicity. Further studies are required to define the precise role of most of the proteolytic enzyme for amoeba cell biology but in particular for E. histolytica virulence.