Cryptosporidium parvum is a leading pathogen in children in developing countries. To investigate whether early postnatal malnutrition leads to heavier C. parvum infections, we assessed intestinal adaptation and parasite load in suckling mice during the first 2 wk of life, analogous to the first postnatal yr in humans. Undernutrition was induced by daily C57BL6J pup separation from lactating dams. Half of the pups were separated daily, for 4 hr on day 4, 8 hr on day 5, and for 12 hr from day 6 until day 14. On day 6, each pup received an oral inoculum of 105 to 107 parasites in 10–25 μl of PBS. Littermate controls received PBS alone. Stools were assessed from days 8, 11, and 14 for oocyst counts. Mice were killed on day 14, 8 days postinoculation, at the peak of the infection. Ileal and colon segments were obtained for histology, real-time and reverse transcriptase PCR, and immunoassays. Villus and crypt lengths and cross-sectional areas were also measured. Undernourished and nourished mice infected with excysted 106 or 107 oocysts exhibited the poorest growth outcomes compared with their uninfected controls. Nourished 106-infected mice had comparable weight decrements to uninfected undernourished mice. Body weight and villi were additively affected by malnutrition and cryptosporidiosis. Hyperplastic crypts and heavier inflammatory responses were found in the ilea of infected malnourished mice. Undernourished infected mice exhibited greater oocyst shedding, TNF-α and IFN-γ intestinal levels, and mRNA expression compared to nourished mice infected with either 105 or 106 oocysts. Taken together, these findings show that Cryptosporidium infection can cause undernutrition and, conversely, that weanling undernutrition intensifies infection and mucosal damage.

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