Entamoeba histolytica, a protozoan parasite, causes amoebiasis, which is a global public health problem. The major route of infection is oral ingestion of cysts, the only form that is able to transmit to a new host. Cysts are produced by cell differentiation from proliferative trophozoites in a process termed “encystation.” During encystation, cell morphology is markedly changed; motile amoeboid cells become rounded, nonmotile cells. Concomitantly, cell components change and significant fluctuations of metabolites occur. Cholesteryl sulfate (CS) is a crucial metabolite for encystation. However, its precise role remains uncertain. To address this issue, we used in vitro culture of Entamoeba invadens as the model system for the E. histolytica encystation study and identified serum-free culture conditions with CS supplementation at concentrations similar to intracellular CS concentrations during natural encystation. Using this culture system, we show that CS exerts pleiotropic effects during Entamoeba encystation, affecting cell rounding and development of membrane impermeability. CS dose dependently induced and maintained encysting cells as spherical maturing cysts with almost no phagocytosis activity. Consequently, the percentage of mature cysts was increased. CS treatment also caused time- and dose-dependent development of membrane impermeability in encysting cells via induction of de novo synthesis of dihydroceramides containing very long N-acyl chains ($26 carbons). These results indicate that CS-mediated morphological and physiological changes are necessary for the formation of mature cysts and the maintenance of the Entamoeba life cycle. Our findings also reveal important morphological aspects of the process of dormancy and the control of membrane structure. IMPORTANCE Entamoeba histolytica causes a parasitic infectious disease, amoebiasis. Amoebiasis is a global public health problem with a high occurrence of infection and inadequate clinical options. The parasite alternates its form between a proliferative trophozoite and a dormant cyst that enables the parasite to adapt to new environments. The transition stage in which trophozoites differentiate into cysts is termed “encystation.” Cholesteryl sulfate is essential for encystation; however, its precise role remains to be determined. Here, we show that cholesteryl sulfate is a multifunctional metabolite exerting pleiotropic roles during Entamoeba encystation, including the rounding of cells and the development of membrane impermeability. Such morphological and physiological changes are required for Entamoeba to produce cysts that are transmissible to a new host, which is essential for maintenance of the Entamoeba life cycle. Our findings are therefore relevant not only to Entamoeba biology but also to general cell and lipid biology.
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