Atomic force microscopic imaging of Acanthamoeba castellanii and Balamuthia mandrillaris trophozoites and cysts

Document Type



Biological and Biomedical Sciences


© 2014 The Author(s) Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology © 2014 International Society of Protistologists.Light microscopy and electron microscopy have been successfully used in the study of microbes, as well as free-living protists. Unlike light microscopy, which enables us to observe living organisms or the electron microscope which provides a two-dimensional image, atomic force microscopy provides a three-dimensional surface profile. Here, we observed two free-living amoebae, Acanthamoeba castellanii and Balamuthia mandrillaris under the phase contrast inverted microscope, transmission electron microscope and atomic force microscope. Although light microscopy was of lower magnification, it revealed functional biology of live amoebae such as motility and osmoregulation using contractile vacuoles of the trophozoite stage, but it is of limited value in defining the cyst stage. In contrast, transmission electron microscopy showed significantly greater magnification and resolution to reveal the ultra-structural features of trophozoites and cysts including intracellular organelles and cyst wall characteristics but it only produced a snapshot in time of a dead amoeba cell. Atomic force microscopy produced three-dimensional images providing detailed topographic description of shape and surface, phase imaging measuring boundary stiffness, and amplitude measurements including width, height and length of A. castellanii and B. mandrillaris trophozoites and cysts. These results demonstrate the importance of the application of various microscopic methods in the biological and structural characterization of the whole cell, ultra-structural features, as well as surface components and cytoskeleton of protist pathogens.


The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology