The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi can infect many distinct mammalian cell types. The parasites enter cells through the formation of phagocytic vacuoles, but later are found free in the cytosol, where they multiply as amastigotes. Using transmission electron microscopy we found that within 2 h after infection 70% of the parasites, including examples of both mammalian forms (trypomastigotes and amastigotes), were inside partially disrupted vacuoles or free in the cytosol. We demonstrated that the pH of vacuoles containing recently interiorized parasites is acidic, through immunocytochemical localization of the acidotropic compound DAMP (18) in their interior. Increasing the vacuolar pH with chloroquine, ammonium chloride, methylamine, or monensin significantly inhibited the escape of the parasites into the cytosol. These results are compatible with the hypothesis that an acid-active hemolysin of T. cruzi (15) might be involved in the escape mechanism.

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