Fatty acid composition of free-living and parasitic stages of the bovine lungworm Dictyocaulus viviparus

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2017 Sep:216:39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.molbiopara.2017.06.008. Epub 2017 Jun 23.


The development of parasitic nematodes proceeds via multiple stages, often implicating the necessity to adapt to different environments. Especially the transition from free-living to parasitic stages is accompanied by a significant change in the environmental conditions. To shed light on possible adaptations to these transitions, the fatty acid composition of different developmental stages of the bovine lungworm Dictyocaulus viviparus was investigated. Fatty acids of D. viviparus eggs, the free-living first, second and third larval stage (L1-L3) as well as the parasitic preadult stage and adult male and female worms residing in the lungs of infected hosts were quantified by gas chromatography after transesterification to their fatty acid methyl esters. The fatty acid content and diversity were higher in parasitic stages compared to those of free-living larvae. The most prevalent fatty acids in both parasitic and free-living stages were stearic (C18:0), palmitic (C16:0), palmitoleic (C16:1) and caprylic acid (C8:0). A variety of (poly-)unsaturated FAs was found in the parasitic stages and in the eggs, which was similar to the variety of FAs found in bovine surfactant. This finding indicates that parasitic stages of D. viviparus take up FAs from their environment. While eggs contained the highest concentration of fatty acids, a decrease was observed from eggs to L1 and further from L2 to L3. The lowest concentration was found in 38-days-old L3, which suggests that FAs serve as an energy reserve for the free-living, non-feeding larval stages. The free-living larvae contained mainly saturated fatty acids and only traces of unsaturated fatty acids, which is in contrast to the phospholipid saturation hypothesis of cold tolerance. Instead, a trade-off between desiccation stress and temperature adaptation may favour a higher amount of saturated FAs in the free-living larval stages. Further studies explicitly examining the FA composition of the different classes of lipids are necessary to better describe the adaptative responses of the FA metabolism to different environmental conditions.

Keywords: Dictyocaulosis; Fatty acid composition; Gas chromatography; Lipid metabolism; Nematode; Parasite.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Dictyocaulus / growth & development*
  • Dictyocaulus / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Life Cycle Stages*
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Metabolomics / methods


  • Fatty Acids