Protozoan phagotrophy from predators to parasites: An overview of the enigmatic cytostome-cytopharynx complex of Trypanosoma cruzi

Eating is fundamental and from this basic principle, living organisms have evolved innumerable strategies to capture energy and nutrients from their environment. As part of the world’s aquatic ecosystems, the expansive family of heterotrophic protozoans uses self-generated currents to funnel prokaryotic prey into an ancient, yet highly enigmatic, oral apparatus known as the cytostome-cytopharynx complex prior to digestion. Despite its near ubiquitous presence in protozoans, little is known mechanistically about how this feeding organelle functions. Intriguingly, one class of these flagellated phagotrophic predators known as the kinetoplastids gave rise to a lineage of obligate parasitic protozoa, the trypanosomatids, that can infect a wide variety of organisms ranging from plants to humans. One parasitic species of humans, Trypanosoma cruzi, has retained this ancestral organelle much like its free-living relatives and continues to use it as its primary mode of endocytosis. In this review, we will highlight foundational observations made regarding the cytostome-cytopharynx complex and examine some of the most pressing questions regarding the mechanistic basis for its function. We propose that T. cruzi has the potential to serve as an excellent model system to dissect the enigmatic process of protozoal phagotrophy and thus enhance our overall understanding of fundamental eukaryotic biology.

Ronald Drew Etheridge. J Eukaryot Microbiol. 2022 Feb 17;e12896. doi: 10.1111/jeu.12896.

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