Cryptosporidiosis, caused by the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium parvum, causes self-limited diarrhea in normal hosts but can cause life-threatening diarrhea for immunosuppressed patients. There is an urgent need for new drugs to treat this chronic disease. Cryptosporidium parvum infection is associated with intestinal structural and pathophysiologic changes, including villi blunting and glucose malabsorption. Substance P (SP), a neuropeptide and pain transmitter, is associated with the gastrointestinal tract and is elevated in humans and macaques after experimental C. parvum challenge. To examine the relevance of SP in the pathogenesis of cryptosporidiosis, and to determine if SP receptor antagonism can be employed for treatment of cryptosporidiosis in immunosuppressed hosts, we used an immunosuppressed murine model (dexamethasone-immunosuppressed mice) that is frequently utilized for examining chemotherapeutic potential of drugs. Quantitative ELISA was used to measure intestinal SP levels in immunosuppressed mice with, and without, C. parvum infection. Intestinal physiological alterations, as studied by the Ussing chamber technique, plus weight change, fecal oocyst shedding, and villi measurements, were compared in infected mice with, and without, SP receptor antagonist (aprepitant) treatment. Immunosuppressed mice infected with C. parvum demonstrated increased SP levels as well as physiological alterations (glucose malabsorption), weight loss, fecal oocyst shedding, and structural alterations (increased intestinal villi blunting) compared to uninfected mice. Each of these defects was significantly inhibited by aprepitant treatment. These studies demonstrate the potential of SP receptor antagonism for treatment of pathogenesis of cryptosporidiosis in immunosuppressed hosts.
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