Schistosomes infect more than 200 million people. These parasitic flatworms rely on a syncytial outer coat called the tegument to survive within the vasculature of their host. Although the tegument is pivotal for their survival, little is known about maintenance of this tissue during the decades schistosomes survive in the bloodstream. Here, we demonstrate that the tegument relies on stem cells (neoblasts) to specify fusogenic progenitors that replace tegumental cells lost to turnover. Molecular characterization of neoblasts and tegumental progenitors led to the discovery of two flatworm-specific zinc finger proteins that are essential for tegumental cell specification. These proteins are homologous to a protein essential for neoblast-driven epidermal maintenance in free-living flatworms. Therefore, we speculate that related parasites (i.e., tapeworms and flukes) employ similar strategies to control tegumental maintenance. Since parasitic flatworms infect every vertebrate species, understanding neoblast-driven tegumental maintenance could identify broad-spectrum therapeutics to fight diseases caused by these parasites.
Keywords: Schistosoma mansoni; developmental biology; infectious disease; microbiology; none; stem cell; stem cells; tegument.
© 2018, Wendt et al.