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Pathogenesis of chagas' disease: parasite persistence and autoimmunity.

Acute Trypanosoma cruzi infections can be asymptomatic, but chronically infected individuals can die of Chagas' disease. The transfer of the parasite mitochondrial kinetoplast DNA (kDNA) minicircle to the genome of chagasic patients can explain the pathogenesis of the disease; in cases of Chagas' disease with evident cardiomyopathy, the kDNA minicircles integrate mainly into retrotransposons at several chromosomes, but the minicircles are also detected in coding regions of genes that regulate cell growth, differentiation, and immune responses. An accurate evaluation of the role played by the genotype alterations in the autoimmune rejection of self-tissues in Chagas' disease is achieved with the cross-kingdom chicken model system, which is refractory to T. cruzi infections. The inoculation of T. cruzi into embryonated eggs prior to incubation generates parasite-free chicks, which retain the kDNA minicircle sequence mainly in the macrochromosome coding genes. Crossbreeding transfers the kDNA mutations to the chicken progeny. The kDNA-mutated chickens develop severe cardiomyopathy in adult life and die of heart failure. The phenotyping of the lesions revealed that cytotoxic CD45, CD8(+) γδ, and CD8α(+) T lymphocytes carry out the rejection of the chicken heart. These results suggest that the inflammatory cardiomyopathy of Chagas' disease is a genetically driven autoimmune disease.

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