The two main stages of development of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi found in the vertebrate host are the trypomastigote and the amastigote. It has been generally assumed that only trypomastigotes are capable of entering cells and that amastigotes are the intracellular replicative form of the parasite. We show here that after incubation for 4 h with human monocytes in vitro 90% or more of extracellularly derived (24 h) amastigotes of T. cruzi are taken up by the cells. Within 2 h they escape the phagocytic vacuole and enter the cytoplasm, where they divide and after 4-5 d transform into trypomastigotes. Trypomastigotes also invade cultured human monocytes. However, they show a lag of several hours between invasion and the start of DNA duplication, while amastigotes commence replication without an apparent lag. Amastigotes also infect cultured fibroblasts, albeit with lower efficiency. When injected intraperitoneally into mice, amastigotes are as infective as trypomastigotes. Based on these results, and on prior findings that amastigotes are found free in the circulation of mice during the acute stage of the disease (3), it seems likely that the cellular uptake of amastigotes can initiate an alternative subcycle within the life cycle of this parasite in the mammalian host. Also, because trypomastigotes and amastigotes have diverse surface antigens, they may use different strategies to invade host cells.

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