Human infection with the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium parvum has recently emerged as a global public health problem. Although infection is unrelenting in patients classically regarded as immunocompromised, a tantalizing observation is that infection with this parasite results in both acute self-limited as well as chronic diarrhea in young children. Recent data have begun to elucidate multiple potential mechanisms by which parasitism of the intestinal epithelium may yield an intestinal secretory response. However, a central issue for future studies is to understand how Cryptosporidium infection in young children results in such a broad spectrum of clinical presentation. An answer to this question is likely to result through a dual understanding of how systemic or enteric immunity impacts on intestinal secretory responses and how intracellular parasitism alters intestinal epithelial cell function and signals the submucosal intestinal compartment. The virulence factors of Cryptosporidium mediating these events need to be identified. Douglas Clark and Cynthia Sears here review the current understanding of the pathogenesis of intestinal secretion in response to Cryptosporidium infection, and discuss key questions requiring additional study.
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