Morphological variability in the mucosal attachment site of Trichuris muris revealed by X-ray microcomputed tomography

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Abstract

Parasitic infections can be challenging to study because light and electron microscopy are often limited in visualising complex and inaccessible attachment sites. Exemplifying this, Trichuris spp. inhabits a tunnel of epithelial cells within the host caecum and colon. A significant global burden of this infection persists partly because available anthelminthics lack efficacy, although the mechanisms underlying this remain unknown. Consequently, there is a need to pioneer new approaches to better characterize the parasite niche within the host and investigate how variation in its morphology and integrity may contribute to resistance to therapeutic intervention. To address these aims, we exploited 3D X-ray micro-computed tomography (microCT) to image the mouse whipworm T. muris in caeca of wild-type C57BL/6 and SCID mice ex vivo. Using osmium tetroxide staining to effectively enhance contrast of worms, we found that a subset exhibited preferential positioning towards the bases of the intestinal crypts. Moreover, in one rare event, we demonstrate whipworm traversal of the lamina propria. This morphological variability contradicts widely accepted conclusions from conventional microscopy of the parasite niche, showing Trichuris in close contact with the host proliferative and immune compartments that may facilitate immunomodulation. Furthermore, by using a skeletonization-based approach we demonstrate considerable variation in tunnel length and integrity. The qualitative and quantitative observations provide a new morphological point of reference for future in vitro study of Trichuris-host interactions and highlight the potential of microCT to characterise enigmatic host-parasite interactions more accurately.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Apr 2021

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