Friday, November 22, 2013

Do IBS Patients Lack Blastocystis and Dientamoeba??

I feel like sharing data from a poster created by one of my colleagues, Dr Laura Rindom Krogsgaard who works at Køge Sygehus, Denmark. She presented the poster last month at the United European Gastrointestinal (UEG) Week in Berlin.

Laura is currently doing a very interesting survey on IBS and IBS-like symptoms in Danish individuals. Her first publication was on the epidemiology of IBS in Denmark (see literature list below). She performed a web-based survey, using YouGov Zapera, and questionnaires were emailed to a web panel (n = 19,567) representative of the general Danish population aged 18-50 years containing info on gender, age, geography and type of intestinal symptoms (if any). IBS and subtypes were estimated by the Rome III criteria. Of 6,112 responders, 979 (16%) fulfilled the Rome III criteria for IBS and had no organic diagnosis likely to explain their symptoms. IBS subtypes detected included  mixed IBS (36%), IBS with diarrhea (33%), IBS with constipation (18%), and unsubtyped IBS (11%).

At the Laboratory of Parasitology, we helped Laura analyse stool samples from survey participants for parasites. Not surprisingly, Blastocystis and Dientamoeba were by far the most common parasites detected; however, it appeared that individuals with IBS symptoms were less likely to be colonised by these parasites than their controls! Which means that we have a situation reminiscent of that seen in IBD patients, only less pronounced. 

Laura was able to survey symptom developement over 1 year and compare this to the incidence of Blastocystis and Dientamoeba, and none of the parasites (indvidually or in co-infection) were linked to symptom development.

Indeed, Laura's data are in line with the general tendency that we see for Blastocystis (see figure below). Blastocystis appears to be rare in individuals with perturbation of the intestinal microbiota (due to antibiotic treatment, inflammation, infection, diet, etc.), while common in healthy individuals, most of whom are probably characterised by high gut microbial diversity and thereby - apparently - the right substrate/growth conditions for Blastocystis.


Krogsgaard LR, Engsbro AL, & Bytzer P (2013). The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome in Denmark. A population-based survey in adults ≤50 years of age. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 48 (5), 523-9 PMID: 23506174

The entire poster "Dientamoeba fragilis and Blastocystis: Two parasites the irritable bowel might be missing" presented at the UEGweek can be viewed here via SlideShare.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Shift of Paradigm in Blastocystis Research? Free paper in Trends in Parasitology!

As mentioned earlier, Dr Pauline Scanlan and I put together an opinion for Trends in Parasitology. This paper may possibly be one in a string of research and review papers heralding a shift of paradigm in Blastocystis research. I hope that it will stimulate the debate about the clinical significance of Blastocystis, and it can be downloaded for free all of this month; please go here for a free copy (go and look in the right side bar in the 'Featured Articles' section; there you will also find a free copy of the review on foodborne parasites mentioned in my previous blog post!).


Scanlan PD, & Stensvold CR (2013). Blastocystis: getting to grips with our guileful guest. Trends in Parasitology PMID: 24080063

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Month in Blastocystis Research (OCT 2013)

Thanks to Google Scholar and PubMed feeds I can keep myself relatively up-to-date with emerging Blastocystis data and 'breaking news' in the field.

One of things that have caught my attention recently, is the string of foodborne outbreaks in Sweden, due to Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora and microsporidia stemming from (presumably) imported produce. A few of my colleagues (Robertsen et al., in press) have just published a large review on the impact of globalisation on foodborne parasites - a resource that has been a long time coming, and which I hope will be read and contemplated by many. The review includes a table on parasites isolated from fresh produce (for some reason the Swedish data was not included), and among these is Blastocystis, which was identified in fresh produce from Saudi Arabia (original data published by Al-Binali et al., 2006). Apart from this, hardly any data is out there on Blastocystis in the environment, and we therefore still know very little about potential sources of transmission and how we are exposed.

In Clinical Microbiology and Infection there is a paper out by Mass et al. on detection of intestinal protozoa in paediatric patients with gastrointestinal symptoms by multiplex real-time PCR. Not surprisingly, the study is from The Netherlands, the cradle of real-time PCR-based parasite diagnostics in clinical microbiology. It's a great paper despite all its limitations, but I couldn't figure out which Blastocystis PCR they used for the study, - I think the authors failed to provide a reference for it. Anyway, the authors found 30% of the children colonised by Blastocystis, while Dientamoeba fragilis was found in a staggering 62%, which is more or less equivalent to what we see in Denmark in this type of cohort (please refer to previous blog post on Dientamoeba fragilis). It appeared that symptom resolution was just as common in patients who were treated with different antibiotics as in patients who were not treated, and the authors end up by highlighting the fact that it is still difficult to know whom and when to test for these parasites, and when to treat them.

In Mexico, Sanchez-Aguillon and colleagues have documented a very nice study on parasitic infections in a Mexican HIV/AIDS cohort. Quite a few of the patients had Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora or Cystoisospora, the presence of which was - not surprisingly - associated with diarrhoea. Table 1 in the paper is a bit confusing, but I believe that Blastocystis was found in about 30%; of note, only ST1 and ST3 were found, adding further support to the hypothesis that ST1 and ST3 are common in most parts of the world, while especially ST4 exhibits vast differences in geographic 'affinity'. The authors end their paper by saying
"Other molecular markers for Blastocystis ST should be studied to elucidate the complexity of this heterogeneous genus and its role in human disease."
Let me just add that subtype identification is a valid proxy for intra-generic diversity in Blastocystis, - we have been looking at mitochondrial genomes and found that analyses based on mitochondrial markers and ribosomal genes reveal similar phylogenetic relationships. So, in terms of transmission and epidemiology in general, the subtyping system ('barcoding') is highly applicable and robust. It is true, however, that we need to see if we can identify specific genes potentially responsible for pathogenesis. The Mexican paper can be accessed here.

There's a very nice paper out now from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and University of Basel on differential diagnoses of common dermatological problems in returning travellers. Blastocystis has been included in the list (in the section on allergic skin reactions/urticaria) together with a plethora of other infectious agents. Lots of informative images there, and the paper has a nice structure.

Despite loads of daily feeds, a lot of papers relevant to Blastocystis research still escape my attention. I realise that there was a paper out in PLoS Genetics in June on Saprolegnia parasitica (an oomocyte parasitising on fish) which appears to be a good and interesting read. Maybe I'll come back to this one!

For me personally, this month in Blastocystis research has been a month of putting together grant proposals - more so now than usual -, many initiatives are being taken, networks are being expanded, and interesting data are accumulating from various projects... I hope to be back with details on some of this soon!


Maas L, Dorigo-Zetsma JW, de Groot CJ, Bouter S, Plötz FB, & van Ewijk BE (2013). Detection of intestinal protozoa in paediatric patients with gastrointestinal symptoms by multiplex real-time PCR. Clinical Microbiology and Infection : the official publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases PMID: 24131443

Fabiola Sanchez-Aguillon, Eduardo Lopez-Escamilla, Francisco Velez-Perez, Williams Arony Martinez-Flores, Patricia Rodriguez-Zulueta, Joel Martinez-Ocaña, Fernando Martinez-Hernandez, Mirza Romero-Valdovinos, Pablo Maravilla (2013). Parasitic infections in a Mexican HIV/AIDS cohort. The Journal of Infection in Developing Countries PMID: 24129632 

Neumayr A, Hatz C, Blum J. In Press. Not be missed! Differential Diagnoses of Common Dermatological Problems in Returning Travellers. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.

Robertson LJ, Sprong H, Ortega YR, van der Giessen JW, Fayer R. In Press. Impact of globalisation on foodborne parasites. Trends in Parasitology