Giardia duodenalis: Biology and Pathogenesis

Document Type



Pathology (East Africa)


Giardia duodenalis captured the attention of Leeuwenhoek in 1681 while he was examining his own diarrheal stool, but, ironically, it did not really gain attention as a human pathogen until the 1960s, when outbreaks were reported. Key technological advances, including in vitro cultivation, genomic and proteomic databases, and advances in microscopic and molecular approaches, have led to an understanding that this is a eukaryotic organism with a reduced genome rather than a truly premitochondriate eukaryote. This has included the discovery of mitosomes (vestiges of mitochondria), a transport system with many of the features of the Golgi apparatus, and even evidence for a sexual or parasexual cycle. Cell biology approaches have led to a better understanding of how Giardia survives with two nuclei and how it goes through its life cycle as a noninvasive organism in the hostile environment of the lumen of the host intestine. Studies of its immunology and pathogenesis have moved past the general understanding of the importance of the antibody response in controlling infection to determining the key role of the Th17 response. This work has led to understanding of the requirement for a balanced host immune response that avoids the extremes of an excessive response with collateral damage or one that is unable to clear the organism. This understanding is especially important in view of the remarkable ranges of early manifestations, which range from asymptomatic to persistent diarrhea and weight loss, and longer-term sequelae that include growth stunting in children who had no obvious symptoms and a high frequency of postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Publication (Name of Journal)

Clinical Microbiology Reviews