A new model for Trypanosoma cruzi heme homeostasis depends on modulation of TcHTE protein expression

J Biol Chem. 2020 Jul 23;jbc.RA120.014574. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.014574. Online ahead of print.


Heme is an essential cofactor for many biological processes in aerobic organisms, which can synthesize it de novo through a conserved pathway. Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiological agent of Chagas disease, as well as other trypanosomatids relevant to human health, are heme auxotrophs, meaning they must import it from their mammalian hosts or insect vectors. However, how these species import and regulate heme levels is not fully defined yet. It is known that the membrane protein TcHTE is involved in T. cruzi heme transport, although its specific role remains unclear. In the present work, we studied endogenous TcHTE in the different life-cycle stages of the parasite to gain insight in its function in heme transport and homeostasis. We have confirmed that TcHTE is predominantly detected in replicative stages (epimastigote and amastigote), in which heme transport activity was previously validated. We also showed that in epimastigotes, TcHTE protein and mRNA levels decrease in response to increments in heme concentration, confirming it as a member of the Heme Response Gene family. Finally, we demonstrated that T. cruzi epimastigotes can sense intracellular heme by an unknown mechanism and regulate heme transport to adapt to changing conditions. Based on these results, we propose a model in which T. cruzi senses intracellular heme and regulates heme transport activity by adjusting the expression of TcHTE. The elucidation and characterization of heme transport and homeostasis will contribute to a better understanding of a critical pathway for T. cruzi biology allowing the identification of novel and essential proteins.

Keywords: Chagas disease; Trypanosoma cruzi; heme; heme transport; homeostasis; parasite; transport.