Differentiation of Trypanosoma cruzi epimastigotes to metacyclic trypomastigotes occurs in the insect rectum, after adhesion of the epimastigotes to the intestinal wall. We investigated the effect of the nutritional stress on the metacyclogenesis process in vitro by incubating epimastigotes in the chemically defined TAU3AAG medium supplemented with different nutrients. Addition of fetal bovine serum induced epimastigote growth but inhibited metacyclogenesis. In this medium, few parasites attached to the substrate. Ultrastructural analysis demonstrated reservosomes at the posterior end of the epimastigotes. Incubation of the cells in TAU3AAG medium containing gold-labeled transferrin resulted in high endocytosis of the marker by both adhered and free-swimming epimastigotes. No intracellular gold particles could be detected in trypomastigotes. Addition of transferrin–gold complexes to adhered epimastigotes cultivated for 4 days in TAU3AAG medium resulted in decrease of both metacyclogenesis and adhesion to the substrate, as compared with parasites maintained in transferrin-free medium. Adhesion to the substrate is triggered by nutritional stress, and proteins accumulated in reservosomes are used as energy source during the differentiation. A close relationship exists among nutritional stress, endocytosis of nutrients, adhesion to the substrate, and cell differentiation in T. cruzi epimastigotes.

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