Chagas disease (CD), caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi, is a chronic illness in which parasites persist in the host-infected tissues for years. T. cruzi invasion in cardiomyocytes elicits the production of pro-inflammatory mediators [TNF-α, IL-1β, IFN-γ; nitric oxide (·NO)], leading to mitochondrial dysfunction with increased superoxide radical (O2·−), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and peroxynitrite generation. We hypothesize that these redox mediators may control parasite proliferation through the induction of intracellular amastigote programmed cell death (PCD). In this work, we show that T. cruzi (CL-Brener strain) infection in primary cardiomyocytes produced an early (24 h post infection) mitochondrial dysfunction with H2O2 generation and the establishment of an oxidative stress evidenced by FoxO3 activation and target host mitochondrial protein expression (MnSOD and peroxiredoxin 3). TNF-α/IL-1β-stimulated cardiomyocytes were able to control intracellular amastigote proliferation compared with unstimulated cardiomyocytes. In this condition leading to oxidant formation, an enhanced number of intracellular apoptotic amastigotes were detected. The ability of H2O2 to induce T. cruzi PCD was further confirmed in the epimastigote stage of the parasite. H2O2 treatment induced parasite mitochondrial dysfunction together with intra-mitochondrial O2·− generation. Importantly, parasites genetically engineered to overexpress mitochondrial Fe-superoxide dismutase (Fe-SODA) were more infective to TNF-α/IL-1β-stimulated cardiomyocytes with less apoptotic amastigotes; this result underscores the role of this enzyme in parasite survival. Our results indicate that cardiomyocyte-derived diffusible mediators are able to control intracellular amastigote proliferation by triggering T. cruzi PCD and that parasite Fe-SODA tilts the process toward survival as part of an antioxidant-based immune evasion mechanism.

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