The intestinal parasite Cryptosporidium is controlled by an enterocyte intrinsic inflammasome that depends on NLRP6

Authors: Adam Sateriale, Jodi A. Gullicksrud, Julie B. Engiles, Briana I. McLeod, Emily M. Kugler, Jorge Henao-Mejia, Ting Zhou, Aaron M. Ring, Igor E. Brodsky, Christopher A. Hunter, Boris Striepen


The apicomplexan parasite Cryptosporidium infects the intestinal epithelium. While infection is widespread around the world, children in resource-poor settings suffer a disproportionate disease burden. Cryptosporidiosis is a leading cause of diarrheal disease, responsible for mortality and stunted growth in children. CD4 T cells are required to resolve this infection, but powerful innate mechanisms control the parasite prior to the onset of adaptive immunity. Here, we use the natural mouse pathogen Cryptosporidium tyzzeri to demonstrate that the inflammasome plays a critical role in initiating this early response. Mice lacking core inflammasome components, including caspase-1 and apoptosis-associated speck-like protein, show increased parasite burden and caspase 1 deletion solely in enterocytes phenocopies whole-body knockout (KO). This response was fully functional in germfree mice and sufficient to control Cryptosporidium infection. Inflammasome activation leads to the release of IL-18, and mice that lack IL-18 are more susceptible to infection. Treatment of infected caspase 1 KO mice with recombinant IL-18 is remarkably efficient in rescuing parasite control. Notably, NOD-like receptor family pyrin domain containing 6 (NLRP6) was the only NLR required for innate parasite control. Taken together, these data support a model of innate recognition of Cryptosporidium infection through an NLRP6-dependent and enterocyte-intrinsic inflammasome that leads to the release of IL-18 required for parasite control.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 118 (2): e2007807118