Schistosoma mansoni alter transcription of immunomodulatory gene products following in vivo praziquantel exposure

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2021 Mar 3;15(3):e0009200. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0009200. eCollection 2021 Mar.


Control of the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis relies almost entirely on praziquantel (PZQ) monotherapy. How PZQ clears parasite infections remains poorly understood. Many studies have examined the effects of PZQ on worms cultured in vitro, observing outcomes such as muscle contraction. However, conditions worms are exposed to in vivo may vary considerably from in vitro experiments given the short half-life of PZQ and the importance of host immune system engagement for drug efficacy in animal models. Here, we investigated the effects of in vivo PZQ exposure on Schistosoma mansoni. Measurement of pro-apoptotic caspase activation revealed that worm death occurs only after parasites shift from the mesenteric vasculature to the liver, peaking 24 hours after drug treatment. This indicates that PZQ is not directly schistocidal, since PZQ's half-life is ~2 hours in humans and ~30 minutes in mice, and focuses attention on parasite interactions with the host immune system following the shift of worms to the liver. RNA-Seq of worms harvested from mouse livers following sub-lethal PZQ treatment revealed drug-evoked changes in the expression of putative immunomodulatory and anticoagulant gene products. Several of these gene products localized to the schistosome esophagus and may be secreted into the host circulation. These include several Kunitz-type protease inhibitors, which are also found in the secretomes of other blood feeding animals. These transcriptional changes may reflect mechanisms of parasite immune-evasion in response to chemotherapy, given the role of complement-mediated attack and the host innate/humoral immune response in parasite elimination. One of these isoforms, SmKI-1, has been shown to exhibit immunomodulatory and anti-coagulant properties. These data provide insight into the effect of in vivo PZQ exposure on S. mansoni, and the transcriptional response of parasites to the stress of chemotherapy.