Acanthamoeba castellanii, a free-living amoeba, causes a sight-threatening form of keratitis. Even after extensive therapies, corneal damage can be severe, often requiring corneal transplantation to restore vision. However, A. castellanii cysts are not eliminated from the conjunctiva and stroma of humans and can excyst, resulting in infection of the corneal transplant. The aim of this study was to determine whether elements of the innate immune apparatus, neutrophils and macrophages, were capable of detecting and eliminating A. castellanii cysts and to examine the mechanism by which they kill the cysts. Results show that neither innate immune cell is attracted chemotactically to intact cysts, yet both were attracted to lysed cysts. Both macrophages and neutrophils were capable of killing significant numbers of cysts, yet neutrophils were 3-fold more efficient than macrophages. Activation of macrophages with lipopolysaccharide and interferon-γ did not increase their cytolytic ability. Conditioned medium isolated from macrophages did not lyse the cysts; however, prevention of phagocytosis by cytochalasin D inhibited 100% of macrophage-mediated killing of the cysts. Conditioned medium from neutrophils did kill significant numbers of the cysts, and this killing was blocked by quercetin, a potent inhibitor of myeloperoxidase (MPO). These results indicate that neither macrophages nor neutrophils are chemoattracted to intact cysts, yet both are capable of killing the cysts. Macrophages killed the cysts by phagocytosis, whereas neutrophils killed cysts through the secretion of MPO.

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