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1.  Profound Activity of the Anti-cancer Drug Bortezomib against Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes Identifies the Proteasome as a Novel Drug Target for Cestodes 
A library of 426 FDA-approved drugs was screened for in vitro activity against E. multilocularis metacestodes employing the phosphoglucose isomerase (PGI) assay. Initial screening at 20 µM revealed that 7 drugs induced considerable metacestode damage, and further dose-response studies revealed that bortezomib (BTZ), a proteasome inhibitor developed for the chemotherapy of myeloma, displayed high anti-metacestodal activity with an EC50 of 0.6 µM. BTZ treatment of E. multilocularis metacestodes led to an accumulation of ubiquinated proteins and unequivocally parasite death. In-gel zymography assays using E. multilocularis extracts demonstrated BTZ-mediated inhibition of protease activity in a band of approximately 23 kDa, the same size at which the proteasome subunit beta 5 of E. multilocularis could be detected by Western blot. Balb/c mice experimentally infected with E. multilocularis metacestodes were used to assess BTZ treatment, starting at 6 weeks post-infection by intraperitoneal injection of BTZ. This treatment led to reduced parasite weight, but to a degree that was not statistically significant, and it induced adverse effects such as diarrhea and neurological symptoms. In conclusion, the proteasome was identified as a drug target in E. multilocularis metacestodes that can be efficiently inhibited by BTZ in vitro. However, translation of these findings into in vivo efficacy requires further adjustments of treatment regimens using BTZ, or possibly other proteasome inhibitors.
Author Summary
Tapeworms (cestodes) are a class of important human pathogens, causing very severe diseases in man such as alveolar echinococcosis (Echinococcus multilocularis), cystic echinococcosis (E. granulosus) and neurocysticercosis (Taenia solium). Current treatments are mainly based on benzimidazoles that show some limited activity against cestode larvae, but often do not kill them. These compounds have to be taken for extended periods of time, and can cause adverse side-effects. Cestode infections cause neglected diseases and the pharmaceutical industry is generally not interested in investments for developing novel bioactive compounds. In this study we focus on a panel of FDA-approved drugs and assessed them in E. multilocularis, which causes the most deadly of all helminth infections. One compound, the anti-cancer drug bortezomib, exhibits considerable in vitro activity against E. multilocularis metacestodes, and we provide evidence that it acts on the proteasome. In experimentally infected mice bortezomib activity was lower than the currently used albendazole and induced adverse effects. Bortezomib is therefore not a useful drug for treatment of Echinococcus larvae, but our results demonstrate that in future studies the cestode proteasome should gain more attention as a drug target.
PMCID: PMC4256282  PMID: 25474446
2.  In Vitro Parasiticidal Effect of Nitazoxanide against Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes 
When humans serve as inadvertent intermediate hosts for Echinococcus multilocularis, disease (alveolar echinococcosis [AE]) may result from the expanding parasite metacestode in visceral organs, mostly in the liver. Benzimidazole carbamate derivatives such as mebendazole and albendazole are used for chemotherapeutic treatment of AE. However, these treatments are, in most cases, parasitistatic rather than parasiticidal. As treatment is discontinued, a recurrence of parasite growth has been observed in many AE patients with nonradical resections. The only curative treatment for AE is radical surgical resection of the parasite tissue and support by chemotherapy. As there is a need for new treatment options for AE, the in vitro efficacy of nitazoxanide (NTZ), a broad-spectrum drug used against intestinal parasites and bacteria, was investigated. We showed that in vitro treatment of E. multilocularis metacestodes with NTZ induced high levels of alkaline phosphatase activity in the medium. Concurrently, distinct morphological and ultrastructural alterations were detected. Most significantly, two distinct types of alterations were observed as soon as after 3 h of NTZ treatment. At first, the drug induced a peripheral output of membranous vesicles from the tegumental membrane into the laminated layer. Simultaneously, germinal layer-associated undifferentiated cells produced large vacuoles filled with lipid-like and often electron-dense membranous segments. Other alterations were observed at later time points, including vacuolization of the germinal layer, accumulation of lipid droplets, and lastly, loss of microtriches and separation of the laminated and germinal layers. The pattern of damage induced by NTZ was different from the alterations earlier observed in albendazole sulfoxide-treated vesicles. The nonviability of NTZ-treated metacestodes was confirmed through bioassay, i.e., inoculation of treated and untreated parasites into mice. These experiments demonstrate the in vitro parasiticidal effect of NTZ on E. multilocularis metacestodes.
PMCID: PMC151752  PMID: 12543645
3.  Excretory/Secretory-Products of Echinococcus multilocularis Larvae Induce Apoptosis and Tolerogenic Properties in Dendritic Cells In Vitro 
Alveolar echinococcosis, caused by Echinococcus multilocularis larvae, is a chronic disease associated with considerable modulation of the host immune response. Dendritic cells (DC) are key effectors in shaping the immune response and among the first cells encountered by the parasite during an infection. Although it is assumed that E.multilocularis, by excretory/secretory (E/S)-products, specifically affects DC to deviate immune responses, little information is available on the molecular nature of respective E/S-products and their mode of action.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We established cultivation systems for exposing DC to live material from early (oncosphere), chronic (metacestode) and late (protoscolex) infectious stages. When co-incubated with Echinococcus primary cells, representing the invading oncosphere, or metacestode vesicles, a significant proportion of DC underwent apoptosis and the surviving DC failed to mature. In contrast, DC exposed to protoscoleces upregulated maturation markers and did not undergo apoptosis. After pre-incubation with primary cells and metacestode vesicles, DC showed a strongly impaired ability to be activated by the TLR ligand LPS, which was not observed in DC pre-treated with protoscolex E/S-products. While none of the larvae induced the secretion of pro-inflammatory IL-12p70, the production of immunosuppressive IL-10 was elevated in response to primary cell E/S-products. Finally, upon incubation with DC and naïve T-cells, E/S-products from metacestode vesicles led to a significant expansion of Foxp3+ T cells in vitro.
This is the first report on the induction of apoptosis in DC by cestode E/S-products. Our data indicate that the early infective stage of E. multilocularis is a strong inducer of tolerance in DC, which is most probably important for generating an immunosuppressive environment at an infection phase in which the parasite is highly vulnerable to host attacks. The induction of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T cells through metacestode E/S-products suggests that these cells fulfill an important role for parasite persistence during chronic echinococcosis.
Author Summary
Parasitic helminths are inducers of chronic diseases and have evolved mechanisms to suppress the host immune response. Mostly from studies on roundworms, a picture is currently emerging that helminths secrete factors (E/S-products) that directly act on sentinels of the immune system, dendritic cells, in order to achieve an expansion of immunosuppressive, regulatory T cells (T-reg). Parasitic helminths are currently also intensely studied as therapeutic agents against autoimmune diseases and allergies, which is directly linked to their immunosuppressive activities. The immunomodulatory products of parasitic helminths are therefore of high interest for understanding immunopathology during infections and for the treatment of allergies. The present work was conducted on larvae of the tapeworm E. multilocularis, which grow like a tumor into surrounding host tissue and thus cause the lethal disease alveolar echinococcosis. The authors found that E/S-products from early infective larvae are strong inducers of tolerogenic DC in vitro and show that E/S-products of larvae of the chronic stage lead to an in vitro expansion of Foxp3+ T cells, suggesting that both the expansion of these T cells and poorly responsive DC are important for the establishment and persistence of E. multilocularis larvae within the host.
PMCID: PMC3283565  PMID: 22363826
4.  In Vitro and In Vivo Activities of Dicationic Diguanidino Compounds against Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes 
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is a disease predominantly affecting the liver, with metacestodes (larvae) of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis proliferating and exhibiting tumor-like infiltrative growth. For many years, chemotherapeutical treatment against alveolar echinococcosis has relied on the benzimidazoles albendazole and mebendazole, which require long treatment durations and exhibit parasitostatic rather than parasiticidal efficacy. Although benzimidazoles have been and still are beneficial for the patients, there is clearly a demand for alternative and more efficient treatment options. Aromatic dications, more precisely a small panel of di-N-aryl-diguanidino compounds, were screened for efficacy against E. multilocularis metacestodes in vitro. Only those with a thiophene core group were active against metacestodes, while furans were not. The most active compound, DB1127, was further investigated in terms of in vivo efficacy in mice experimentally infected with E. multilocularis metacestodes. This diguanidino compound was effective against AE when administered intraperitoneally but not when applied orally. Thus, thiophene-diguanidino derivatives with improved bioavailability when administered orally could lead to treatment options against AE.
PMCID: PMC3719769  PMID: 23716058
5.  Molecular and immunological diagnosis of echinococcosis. 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  1992;5(3):248-261.
Echinococcosis is an infectious disease of humans caused by the larval (metacestode) stage of the cestode species Echinococcus granulosus (cystic echinococcosis or hydatid disease) or Echinococcus multilocularis (alveolar echinococcosis or alveolar hydatid disease). Clinical manifestations depend primarily on localization and size of hepatic lesions and may include hepatomegaly, obstructive jaundice, or cholangitis. Prognostically, alveolar echinococcosis is considered similar to liver malignancies, including a lethality rate of 90% for untreated cases. Diagnosis is based on imaging techniques coupled with immunodiagnostic procedures. Antibody detection tests for E. multilocularis have markedly improved with the use of affinity-purified Em2 antigen and recombinant antigen II/3-10 in enzyme immunoassays. Antigens of corresponding quality for E. granulosus are still unavailable. The detection of circulating antigens and immune complexes in the sera of patients with cystic echinococcosis, the demonstration of in vitro lymphocyte proliferation in response to stimulation with Echinococcus antigens, and the discrimination of serum immunoglobulin isotype activity to various Echinococcus antigens in both cystic and alveolar echinococcosis have been suggested for diagnostic purposes as well as for monitoring patients after treatment. New diagnostic molecular tools include DNA probes for Southern hybridization tests and polymerase chain reaction for the amplification of E. multilocularis and E. granulosus species-specific DNA fragments.
PMCID: PMC358243  PMID: 1498767
6.  Early Peritoneal Immune Response during Echinococcus granulosus Establishment Displays a Biphasic Behavior 
Cystic echinococcosis is a worldwide distributed helminth zoonosis caused by the larval stage of Echinococcus granulosus. Human secondary cystic echinococcosis is caused by dissemination of protoscoleces after accidental rupture of fertile cysts and is due to protoscoleces ability to develop into new metacestodes. In the experimental model of secondary cystic echinococcosis mice react against protoscoleces producing inefficient immune responses, allowing parasites to develop into cysts. Although the chronic phase of infection has been analyzed in depth, early immune responses at the site of infection establishment, e.g., peritoneal cavity, have not been well studied. Because during early stages of infection parasites are thought to be more susceptible to immune attack, this work focused on the study of cellular and molecular events triggered early in the peritoneal cavity of infected mice.
Principal Findings
Data obtained showed disparate behaviors among subpopulations within the peritoneal lymphoid compartment. Regarding B cells, there is an active molecular process of plasma cell differentiation accompanied by significant local production of specific IgM and IgG2b antibodies. In addition, peritoneal NK cells showed a rapid increase with a significant percentage of activated cells. Peritoneal T cells showed a substantial increase, with predominance in CD4+ T lymphocytes. There was also a local increase in Treg cells. Finally, cytokine response showed local biphasic kinetics: an early predominant induction of Th1-type cytokines (IFN-γ, IL-2 and IL-15), followed by a shift toward a Th2-type profile (IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10 and IL-13).
Results reported here open new ways to investigate the involvement of immune effectors players in E. granulosus establishment, and also in the sequential promotion of Th1- toward Th2-type responses in experimental secondary cystic echinococcosis. These data would be relevant for designing rational therapies based on stimulation of effective responses and blockade of evasion mechanisms.
Author Summary
Cystic echinococcosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the larval stage of the cestode Echinococcus granulosus and shows a cosmopolitan distribution with a worldwide prevalence of roughly 6 million infected people. Human cystic echinococcosis can develop in two types of infection. Primary infection occurs by ingestion of oncospheres, while secondary infection is caused by dissemination of protoscoleces after accidental rupture of fertile cysts. Murine experimental secondary infection in Balb/c mice is the current model to study E. granulosus-host interaction. Secondary infection can be divided into two stages: an early stage in which protoscoleces develop into hydatid cysts (infection establishment) and a later stage in which already differentiated cysts grow and eventually become fertile cysts (chronic infection). During infection establishment parasites are more susceptible to immune attack, thus our study focused on the immunological phenomena triggered early in the peritoneal cavity of experimentally infected mice. Our results suggest that early and local Th2-type responses are permissive for infection establishment.
PMCID: PMC3166041  PMID: 21912714
7.  In Vitro and In Vivo Efficacies of Mefloquine-Based Treatment against Alveolar Echinococcosis▿  
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the metacestode stage of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis and causes severe disease in the human liver, and occasionally in other organs, that is fatal when treatment is unsuccessful. The present chemotherapy against AE is based on mebendazole and albendazole. Albendazole treatment has been found to be ineffective in some instances, is parasitostatic rather than parasiticidal, and usually involves the lifelong uptake of large doses of drugs. Thus, new treatment options are urgently needed. In this study we investigated the in vitro and in vivo efficacy of mefloquine against E. multilocularis metacestodes. Treatment using mefloquine (20 μM) against in vitro cultures of metacestodes resulted in rapid and complete detachment of large parts of the germinal layer from the inner surface of the laminated layer within a few hours. The in vitro activity of mefloquine was dependent on the dosage. In vitro culture of metacestodes in the presence of 24 μM mefloquine for a period of 10 days was parasiticidal, as determined by murine bioassays, while treatment with 12 μM was not. Oral application of mefloquine (25 mg/kg of body weight administered twice a week for a period of 8 weeks) in E. multilocularis-infected mice was ineffective in achieving any reduction of parasite weight, whereas treatment with albendazole (200 mg/kg/day) was highly effective. However, when the same mefloquine dosage was applied intraperitoneally, the reduction in parasite weight was similar to the reduction seen with oral albendazole application. Combined application of both drugs did not increase the treatment efficacy. In conclusion, mefloquine represents an interesting drug candidate for the treatment of AE, and these results should be followed up in appropriate in vivo studies.
PMCID: PMC3028781  PMID: 21135182
8.  Echinococcus metacestode: in search of viability markers 
Parasite  2014;21:63.
Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that most humans infected with Echinococcus spp. exhibit resistance to disease. When infection leads to disease, the parasite is partially controlled by host immunity: in case of immunocompetence, the normal alveolar echinococcosis (AE) or cystic echinococcosis (CE) situation, the metacestode grows slowly, and first clinical signs appear years after infection; in case of impaired immunity (AIDS; other immunodeficiencies), uncontrolled proliferation of the metacestode leads to rapidly progressing disease. Assessing Echinococcus multilocularis viability in vivo following therapeutic interventions in AE patients may be of tremendous benefit when compared with the invasive procedures used to perform biopsies. Current options are F18-fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET), which visualizes periparasitic inflammation due to the metabolic activity of the metacestode, and measurement of antibodies against recEm18, a viability-associated protein, that rapidly regresses upon metacestode inactivation. For Echinococcus granulosus, similar prognosis-associated follow-up parameters are still lacking but a few candidates may be listed. Other possible markers include functional and diffusion-weighted Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and measurement of products from the parasite (circulating antigens or DNA), and from the host (inflammation markers, cytokines, or chemokines). Even though some of them have been promising in pilot studies, none has been properly validated in an appropriate number of patients until now to be recommended for further use in clinical settings. There is therefore still a need to develop reliable tools for improved viability assessment to provide the sufficient information needed to reliably withdraw anti-parasite benzimidazole chemotherapy, and a basis for the development of new alternative therapeutic tools.
PMCID: PMC4245873  PMID: 25429386
Echinococcus multilocularis; Alveolar echinococcosis; Surgery; Medication; Follow-up; Em18; Em2; FDG-PET
9.  Efficacies of Albendazole Sulfoxide and Albendazole Sulfone against In Vitro-Cultivated Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes 
The metacestode stage of Echinococcus multilocularis is the causative agent of alveolar echinococcosis (AE), a parasitic disease affecting the liver, with occasional metastasis into other organs. Benzimidazole carbamate derivatives such as mebendazole and albendazole are currently used for chemotherapeutic treatment of AE. Albendazole is poorly resorbed and is metabolically converted to its main metabolite albendazole sulfoxide, which is believed to be the active component, and further to albendazole sulfone. Chemotherapy with albendazole has been shown to have a parasitostatic rather than a parasitocidal effect; it is not effective in all cases, and the recurrence rate is rather high once chemotherapy is stopped. Thus, development of new means of chemotherapy of AE is needed. This could include modifications of benzimidazoles and elucidiation of the respective biological pathways. In this study we performed in vitro drug treatment of E. multilocularis metacestodes with albendazole sulfoxide and albendazole sulfone. High-performance liquid chromatography analysis of vesicle fluids showed that the drugs were taken up rapidly by the parasite. Transmission electron microscopic investigation of parasite tissues and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of vesicle fluids demonstrated that albendazole sulfoxide and albendazole sulfone had similar effects with respect to parasite ultrastructure and changes in metabolites in vesicle fluids. This study shows that the in vitro cultivation model presented here provides an ideal first-round test system for screening of antiparasite drugs.
PMCID: PMC89110  PMID: 10223913
10.  Targeting Echinococcus multilocularis Stem Cells by Inhibition of the Polo-Like Kinase EmPlk1 
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is a life-threatening disease caused by larvae of the fox-tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis. Crucial to AE pathology is continuous infiltrative growth of the parasite's metacestode stage, which is driven by a population of somatic stem cells, called germinative cells. Current anti-AE chemotherapy using benzimidazoles is ineffective in eliminating the germinative cell population, thus leading to remission of parasite growth upon therapy discontinuation.
Methodology/Principal findings
We herein describe the characterization of EmPlk1, encoded by the gene emplk1, which displays significant homologies to members of the Plk1 sub-family of Polo-like kinases that regulate mitosis in eukaryotic cells. We demonstrate germinative cell-specific expression of emplk1 by RT-PCR, transcriptomics, and in situ hybridization. We also show that EmPlk1 can induce germinal vesicle breakdown when heterologously expressed in Xenopus oocytes, indicating that it is an active kinase. This activity was significantly suppressed in presence of BI 2536, a Plk1 inhibitor that has been tested in clinical trials against cancer. Addition of BI 2536 at concentrations as low as 20 nM significantly blocked the formation of metacestode vesicles from cultivated Echinococcus germinative cells. Furthermore, low concentrations of BI 2536 eliminated the germinative cell population from mature metacestode vesicles in vitro, yielding parasite tissue that was no longer capable of proliferation.
We conclude that BI 2536 effectively inactivates E. multilocularis germinative cells in parasite larvae in vitro by direct inhibition of EmPlk1, thus inducing mitotic arrest and germinative cell killing. Since germinative cells are decisive for parasite proliferation and metastasis formation within the host, BI 2536 and related compounds are very promising compounds to complement benzimidazoles in AE chemotherapy.
Author Summary
The lethal disease AE is characterized by continuous and infiltrative growth of the metacestode larva of the tapeworm E. multilocularis within host organs. This cancer-like progression is exclusively driven by a population of parasite stem cells (germinative cells) that have to be eliminated for an effective cure of the disease. Current treatment options, using benzimidazoles, are parasitostatic only, and thus obviously not effective in germinative cell killing. We herein describe a novel, druggable parasite enzyme, EmPlk1, that specifically regulates germinative cell proliferation. We show that a compound, BI 2536, originally designed to inhibit the human ortholog of EmPlk1, can also inhibit the parasite protein at low doses. Furthermore, low doses of BI 2536 eliminated germinative cells from Echinococcus larvae in vitro and prevented parasite growth and development. We propose that BI 2536 and related compounds are promising drugs to complement current benzimidazole treatment for achieving parasite killing.
PMCID: PMC4046951  PMID: 24901228
11.  In Vitro Activities of Benzimidazoles against Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes 
Alveolar echinococcosis, caused by the larval (metacestode) stage of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, is a lethal parasitosis of the liver prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. For chemotherapy the benzimidazole derivatives mebendazole and albendazole were introduced, and their use has resulted in a significant improvement in the survival rates. However, data from experiments with animals and clinical observations indicate that these drugs elicit only parasitostatic activity and in most cases are not able to completely eliminate the parasitic metacestode tissue. In the present study, we applied a culture system for the in vitro growth and proliferation of E. multilocularis metacestodes to analyze the parasitostatic and parasitocidal potential of mebendazole. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that at concentrations of >0.1 μM, i.e., at concentrations used for therapy of human alveolar echinococcosis, this antihelminth drug is parasitocidal in vitro. Viability assessment was performed by infection experiments with Meriones unguiculatus and mebendazole-treated metacestode tissue and by reverse transcription-PCR for the detection of E. multilocularis mRNA. The E. multilocularis in vitro model proved to be a valuable tool for the analysis of the potential of antihelminth drugs.
PMCID: PMC105743  PMID: 9593125
12.  Echinococcus multilocularis Alkaline Phosphatase as a Marker for Metacestode Damage Induced by In Vitro Drug Treatment with Albendazole Sulfoxide and Albendazole Sulfone 
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the metacestode stage of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis. The disease affects the human liver and occasionally other organs and is fatal if treatment is unsuccessful. The present chemotherapy of AE is based on the administration of benzimidazole carbamate derivatives, such as mebendazole and albendazole. Albendazole treatment has been found to be ineffective in some cases, parasitostatic rather than parasiticidal, and the recurrence rate is rather high. Therefore, chemotherapy usually involves the lifelong uptake of massive doses of albendazole and new treatment options are urgently needed. In order to avoid costly and time-consuming animal experimentation, a first step in searching for novel parasiticidal compounds could be the in vitro drug screening of novel compounds by employing metacestode cultivation. However, presently used techniques (e.g., transmission electron microscopy) for determination of parasite viability involve costly equipment and time-consuming preparation of rather large amounts of parasite material. We therefore searched for a parasite marker which can be easily traced and the presence or absence of which is indicative of parasite viability. In this study we show that the increase of E. multilocularis alkaline phosphatase activity in culture supernatants during in vitro drug treatment with albendazole derivatives correlates with the progressive degeneration and destruction of the metacestode tissue. The inexpensive and rapid assay presented here will serve as an ideal tool for performing first-round in vitro tests on the efficacy of a large number of antiparasitic compounds.
PMCID: PMC90639  PMID: 11451682
13.  Treatment of echinococcosis: albendazole and mebendazole – what else? 
Parasite  2014;21:70.
The search for novel therapeutic options to cure alveolar echinococcosis (AE), due to the metacestode of Echinococcus multilocularis, is ongoing, and these developments could also have a profound impact on the treatment of cystic echinococcosis (CE), caused by the closely related Echinococcus granulosus s.l. Several options are being explored. A viable strategy for the identification of novel chemotherapeutically valuable compounds includes whole-organism drug screening, employing large-scale in vitro metacestode cultures and, upon identification of promising compounds, verification of drug efficacy in small laboratory animals. Clearly, the current focus is targeted towards broad-spectrum anti-parasitic or anti-cancer drugs and compound classes that are already marketed, or that are in development for other applications. The availability of comprehensive Echinococcus genome information and gene expression data, as well as significant progress on the molecular level, has now opened the door for a more targeted drug discovery approach, which allows exploitation of defined pathways and enzymes that are essential for the parasite. In addition, current in vitro and in vivo models that are used to assess drug efficacy should be optimized and complemented by methods that give more detailed information on the host-parasite interactions that occur during drug treatments. The key to success is to identify, target and exploit those parasite molecules that orchestrate activities essential to parasite survival.
PMCID: PMC4271654  PMID: 25526545
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE); Echinococcus multilocularis chemotherapy; In vitro culture; Drugs; Host-parasite interaction
14.  A Multiplex PCR for the Simultaneous Detection and Genotyping of the Echinococcus granulosus Complex 
Echinococcus granulosus is characterized by high intra-specific variability (genotypes G1–G10) and according to the new molecular phylogeny of the genus Echinococcus, the E. granulosus complex has been divided into E. granulosus sensu stricto (G1–G3), E. equinus (G4), E. ortleppi (G5), and E. canadensis (G6–G10). The molecular characterization of E. granulosus isolates is fundamental to understand the spatio-temporal epidemiology of this complex in many endemic areas with the simultaneous occurrence of different Echinococcus species and genotypes. To simplify the genotyping of the E. granulosus complex we developed a single-tube multiplex PCR (mPCR) allowing three levels of discrimination: (i) Echinococcus genus, (ii) E. granulosus complex in common, and (iii) the specific genotype within the E. granulosus complex. The methodology was established with known DNA samples of the different strains/genotypes, confirmed on 42 already genotyped samples (Spain: 22 and Bulgaria: 20) and then successfully applied on 153 unknown samples (Tunisia: 114, Algeria: 26 and Argentina: 13). The sensitivity threshold of the mPCR was found to be 5 ng Echinoccoccus DNA in a mixture of up to 1 µg of foreign DNA and the specificity was 100% when template DNA from closely related members of the genus Taenia was used. Additionally to DNA samples, the mPCR can be carried out directly on boiled hydatid fluid or on alkaline-lysed frozen or fixed protoscoleces, thus avoiding classical DNA extractions. However, when using Echinococcus eggs obtained from fecal samples of infected dogs, the sensitivity of the mPCR was low (<40%). Thus, except for copro analysis, the mPCR described here has a high potential for a worldwide application in large-scale molecular epidemiological studies on the Echinococcus genus.
Author Summary
The dog tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus (E. granulosus) is a cosmopolitan parasite. The adult worms reside in the small intestine of their definitive hosts (dogs). Infective eggs are shed with the feces into the environment and are orally ingested by intermediate hosts where they develop into the metacestode (larval) stage, causing cystic echinococcosis (CE) in humans and livestock. Ten intraspecific genotypes of E. granulosus (G1 to G10) have been reported from different intermediate host species. Based on the recently established molecular phylogeny, E. granulosus is now considered a complex consisting of four species: E. granulosus sensu stricto (G1/G2/G3), E. equinus (G4), E. ortleppi (G5) and E. canadensis (G6–G10). Simple and highly discriminative molecular epidemiological approaches are needed to explore dynamics, life cycle patterns, and the pathogenicity of the members of this complex. We here introduce a one-step multiplex PCR (mPCR) protocol for the genotyping and discrimination of the different members of the E. granulosus complex, allowing three levels of discrimination: (i) Echinococcus genus, (ii) E. granulosus complex, and (iii) genetic variants within the E. granulosus complex. The relatively complicated task of E. granulosus complex speciation and genotyping is clearly simplified by mPCR, and this technique therefore represents a useful tool for routine practice.
PMCID: PMC3547860  PMID: 23350011
15.  Echinococcus granulosus Infection and Options for Control of Cystic Echinococcosis in Tibetan Communities of Western Sichuan Province, China 
Human cystic echinococcosis (CE) is highly endemic in the Tibetan regions of Sichuan where most families keep guard dogs and where there are considerable numbers of ownerless/stray dogs. Strong Buddhist beliefs do not allow for elimination of stray dogs, and many strays are actually fed and adopted by households or monasteries. On account of the high altitude (3900–5000 m), pasturage is the major agricultural activity in this area. The harsh mountainous climate often leads to many grazing animals dying on the pasture at the end of a hard winter. The skin and some meat are taken, and the rest of the animal is left for scavenging birds and animals. The poor sanitation and hygiene, the Buddhist doctrine of allowing old livestock to die naturally, plus the unrestricted disposal of animal viscera post-slaughter may be responsible for the high prevalence of human CE in this setting.
Methods and Findings
As part of a large collaborative control program for CE in Ganzi County, situated in the west of Sichuan Province, surveillance for Echinococcus infection in domestic dogs using a coproantigen method and necropsy of unwanted dogs was carried out prior to (in 2000) and after (in 2005) dog anthelminthic treatment (5 mg/kg oral praziquantal at 6 month intervals) to determine the efficacy of the treatment for control. The prevalence of E. granulosus only in dogs by necropsy was 27% and 22%, and prevalence of both Echinococcus spp. by necropsy was 63% and 38%; prevalence of both Echinococcus spp. by coproantigen analysis was 50% and 17%. Necropsy of sheep/goats (age <1 to 12 years) (prevalence of E. granulosus in 1–6-year-old animals was 38% and in 10–12-year-old animals was 70%) and yaks (age 4 years) (prevalence of E. granulosus was 38%) was undertaken to determine the baseline transmission pressure. Protoscoleces were only found in very old sheep/goats and yaks. Necropsy of dogs in the Datangma district indicated that there was no apparent significant change in the overall prevalence of E. granulosus in unwanted dogs after 5 years of 6-month praziquantel treatment. However, this was likely due to the number of dogs available for necropsy being too small to reflect the real situation prevailing. There was a highly significant decrease in Echinococcus prevalence after the 5-year treatment program shown by coproantigen-ELISA. This indicated a decreasing but continuing risk for re-infection of domestic and stray dogs. Genotyping of E. granulosus samples obtained from necropsied sheep/goats and yaks and from locally infected humans at surgery was carried out to determine the strain of parasite responsible for human infection. DNA genotyping indicated that only the sheep strain (G1) of E. granulosus was present in the study area.
Considerable re-infection rates of E. granulosus among dogs indicated a high infection pressure from infected livestock in this region, most likely from older animals dying on the pasture. A combination of livestock vaccination with the Eg95 vaccine, which is effective against the sheep strain of E. granulosus, and dog anthelmintic treatment, thus targeting two critical points of the parasite life-cycle, would avoid the conflicts of religion or local culture and could achieve the goal of hydatid control in the long term.
Author Summary
Human cystic echinococcosis (CE) is highly endemic in Tibetan regions of Sichuan. As part of a control program for CE in Datangma district, Ganzi County, necropsy of strays and coproantigen-ELISA of all dogs was carried out prior to and post-drug treatment to determine the efficacy of the treatment for control. Examination of sheep/goats and yaks was undertaken to determine the baseline transmission pressure to dogs. The necropsy results indicated no apparent significant change in the overall prevalence of E. granulosus in unwanted dogs after 5 years of 6-month treatment. In contrast, there was a highly significant decrease in Echinococcus prevalence in domestic/stray dogs after the 5-year treatment program shown by coproantigen-ELISA. This indicated a decreasing but continuing risk for re-infection of dogs resulting from high infection pressure from the numerous infected domestic animals. DNA genotyping indicated the presence only of the sheep strain (G1) of E. granulosus in the study area. A combination of livestock vaccination with the highly effective Eg95 vaccine and dog drug treatment, targeting two critical points of the parasite life-cycle, would avoid the conflicts of religion or local culture and achieve the goal of hydatid control in the long term in the area.
PMCID: PMC2668793  PMID: 19399162
16.  On the importance of targeting parasite stem cells in anti-echinococcosis drug development  
Parasite  2014;21:72.
The life-threatening diseases alveolar and cystic echinococcoses are caused by larvae of the tapeworms Echinococcus multilocularis and E. granulosus, respectively. In both cases, intermediate hosts, such as humans, are infected by oral uptake of oncosphere larvae, followed by asexual multiplication and almost unrestricted growth of the metacestode within host organs. Besides surgery, echinococcosis treatment relies on benzimidazole-based chemotherapy, directed against parasite beta-tubulin. However, since beta-tubulins are highly similar between cestodes and humans, benzimidazoles can only be applied at parasitostatic doses and are associated with adverse side effects. Mostly aiming at identifying alternative drug targets, the nuclear genome sequences of E. multilocularis and E. granulosus have recently been characterized, revealing a large number of druggable targets that are expressed by the metacestode. Furthermore, recent cell biological investigations have demonstrated that E. multilocularis employs pluripotent stem cells, called germinative cells, which are the only parasite cells capable of proliferation and which give rise to all differentiated cells. Hence, the germinative cells are the crucial cell type mediating proliferation of E. multilocularis, and most likely also E. granulosus, within host organs and should also be responsible for parasite recurrence upon discontinuation of chemotherapy. Interestingly, recent investigations have also indicated that germinative cells might be less sensitive to chemotherapy because they express a beta-tubulin isoform with limited affinity to benzimidazoles. In this article, we briefly review the recent findings concerning Echinococcus genomics and stem cell research and propose that future research into anti-echinococcosis drugs should also focus on the parasite’s stem cell population.
PMCID: PMC4271656  PMID: 25526547
Genome; Chemotherapy; Beta-tubulin; Benzimidazole; Stem cells; Germinative cells
17.  Natural Infection of the Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus spp.) with Echinococcus granulosus in China 
Echinococcus granulosus is usually transmitted between canid definitive hosts and ungulate intermediate hosts.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Lesions found in the livers of ground squirrels, Spermophilus dauricus/alashanicus, trapped in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, an area in China co-endemic for both E. granulosus and E. multilocularis, were subjected to molecular genotyping for Echinococcus spp. DNA. One of the lesions was shown to be caused by E. granulosus and subsequently by histology to contain viable protoscoleces.
This is the first report of a natural infection of the ground squirrel with E. granulosus. This does not provide definitive proof of a cycle involving ground squirrels and dogs or foxes, but it is clear that there is active E. granulosus transmission occurring in this area, despite a recent past decline in the dog population in southern Ningxia.
Author Summary
Echinococcus granulosus and E. multilocularis are important zoonotic pathogens that cause serious disease in humans. E. granulosus can be transmitted through sylvatic cycles, involving wild carnivores and ungulates; or via domestic cycles, usually involving dogs and farm livestock. E. multilocularis is primarily maintained in a sylvatic life-cycle between foxes and rodents. As part of extensive investigations that we undertook to update available epidemiological data and to monitor the transmission patterns of both E. granulosus and E. mulilocularis in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR) in northwest China, we captured small mammals on the southern slopes of Yueliang Mountain, Xiji, an area co-endemic for human alveolar echinococcosis and cystic echinococcosis. Of 500 trapped small mammals (mainly ground squirrels; Spermophilus dauricus/alashanicus), macroscopic cyst-like lesions (size range 1–10 mm) were found on the liver surface of approximately 10% animals. One of the lesions was shown by DNA analysis to be caused by E. granulosus and by histology to contain viable protoscoleces. This is the first report of a natural infection of the ground squirrel with E. granulosus. We have no definitive proof of a cycle involving ground squirrels and dogs/foxes but it is evident that there is active E. granulosus transmission occurring in this area.
PMCID: PMC2737643  PMID: 19771151
18.  Isolation and Characterization of a Secretory Component of Echinococcus multilocularis Metacestodes Potentially Involved in Modulating the Host-Parasite Interface  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(1):527-536.
Echinococcus multilocularis metacestodes are fluid-filled, vesicle-like organisms, which are characterized by continuous asexual proliferation via external budding of daughter vesicles, predominantly in the livers of infected individuals. Tumor-like growth eventually leads to the disease alveolar echinococcosis (AE). We employed the monoclonal antibody (MAb) E492/G1, previously shown to be directed against a carbohydrate-rich, immunomodulatory fraction of Echinococcus granulosus, to characterize potentially related components in E. multilocularis. Immunofluorescence studies demonstrated that MAb E492/G1-reactive epitopes were found predominantly on the laminated layer and in the periphery of developing brood capsules. The respective molecules were continuously released into the exterior medium and were also found in the parasite vesicle fluid. The MAb E492/G1-reactive fraction in E. multilocularis, named Em492 antigen, was isolated by immunoaffinity chromatography. Em492 antigen had a protein/carbohydrate ratio of 0.25, reacted with a series of lectins, and is related to the laminated layer-associated Em2(G11) antigen. The epitope recognized by MAb E492/G1 was sensitive to sodium periodate but was not affected by protease treatment. Anti-Em492 immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1) and IgG2 and, at lower levels, IgG3 were found in sera of mice suffering from experimentally induced secondary, but not primary, AE. However, with regard to cellular immunity, a suppressive effect on concanavalin A- or crude parasite extract-induced splenocyte proliferation in these mice was observed upon addition of Em492 antigen, but trypan blue exclusion tests and transmission electron microscopy failed to reveal any cytotoxic effect in Em492 antigen-treated spleen cells. This indicated that Em492 antigen could be modulating the periparasitic cellular environment during E. multilocularis infection through as yet unidentified mechanisms and could be one of the factors contributing to immunosuppressive events that occur at the host-parasite interface.
PMCID: PMC344003  PMID: 14688134
19.  Sensitive and Specific Immunohistochemical Diagnosis of Human Alveolar Echinococcosis with the Monoclonal Antibody Em2G11 
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the metacestode stage of Echinococcus multilocularis. Differential diagnosis with cystic echinococcosis (CE) caused by E. granulosus and AE is challenging. We aimed at improving diagnosis of AE on paraffin sections of infected human tissue by immunohistochemical testing of a specific antibody.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We have analysed 96 paraffin archived specimens, including 6 cutting needle biopsies and 3 fine needle aspirates, from patients with suspected AE or CE with the monoclonal antibody (mAb) Em2G11 specific for the Em2 antigen of E. multilocularis metacestodes. In human tissue, staining with mAb Em2G11 is highly specific for E. multilocularis metacestodes while no staining is detected in CE lesions. In addition, the antibody detects small particles of E. multilocularis (spems) of less than 1 µm outside the main lesion in necrotic tissue, liver sinusoids and lymphatic tissue most probably caused by shedding of parasitic material. The conventional histological diagnosis based on haematoxylin and eosin and PAS stainings were in accordance with the immunohistological diagnosis using mAb Em2G11 in 90 of 96 samples. In 6 samples conventional subtype diagnosis of echinococcosis had to be adjusted when revised by immunohistology with mAb Em2G11.
Immunohistochemistry with the mAb Em2G11 is a new, highly specific and sensitive diagnostic tool for AE. The staining of small particles of E. multilocularis (spems) outside the main lesion including immunocompetent tissue, such as lymph nodes, suggests a systemic effect on the host.
Author Summary
Echinococcosis is a life-threatening disease in humans that is caused by the larval stages of the tapeworms Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus granulosus. The eggs of the parasites are released with faeces of canids, and humans are aberrantly infected. In humans, the larval stages of the parasites cause tumour-like lesions mainly in the liver and the lungs. Precise diagnosis of the parasite responsible for human disease is of utmost importance since therapy regimens largely differ between cystic and alveolar echinococcosis. Diagnosis is based on serology, imaging and histology, the latter being the gold standard. However, conventional histology cannot always clearly identify the causative parasite because both parasites can cause human tissue to present similar features. Therefore, we have developed the monoclonal antibody Em2G11 and an immunohistological technique that allows a cheap and fast clear-cut diagnosis of E. multilocularis even on aspirates and small archived bioptic tissue samples. Furthermore, this technique disclosed an unknown feature of human alveolar echinococosis we called "small particles of E. multilocularis" (spems). We argue that these small particles represent micro-fragments of E. multilocularis and thus point to a new form of host-parasite interaction.
PMCID: PMC3493387  PMID: 23145198
20.  Anatomy and development of the larval nervous system in Echinococcus multilocularis 
Frontiers in Zoology  2013;10:24.
The metacestode larva of Echinococcus multilocularis (Cestoda: Taeniidae) develops in the liver of intermediate hosts (typically rodents, or accidentally in humans) as a labyrinth of interconnected cysts that infiltrate the host tissue, causing the disease alveolar echinococcosis. Within the cysts, protoscoleces (the infective stage for the definitive canid host) arise by asexual multiplication. These consist of a scolex similar to that of the adult, invaginated within a small posterior body. Despite the importance of alveolar echinococcosis for human health, relatively little is known about the basic biology, anatomy and development of E. multilocularis larvae, particularly with regard to their nervous system.
We describe the existence of a subtegumental nerve net in the metacestode cysts, which is immunoreactive for acetylated tubulin-α and contains small populations of nerve cells that are labeled by antibodies raised against several invertebrate neuropeptides. However, no evidence was found for the existence of cholinergic or serotoninergic elements in the cyst wall. Muscle fibers occur without any specific arrangement in the subtegumental layer, and accumulate during the invaginations of the cyst wall that form brood capsules, where protoscoleces develop. The nervous system of the protoscolex develops independently of that of the metacestode cyst, with an antero-posterior developmental gradient. The combination of antibodies against several nervous system markers resulted in a detailed description of the protoscolex nervous system, which is remarkably complex and already similar to that of the adult worm.
We provide evidence for the first time of the existence of a nervous system in the metacestode cyst wall, which is remarkable given the lack of motility of this larval stage, and the lack of serotoninergic and cholinergic elements. We propose that it could function as a neuroendocrine system, derived from the nervous system present in the bladder tissue of other taeniids. The detailed description of the development and anatomy of the protoscolex neuromuscular system is a necessary first step toward the understanding of the developmental mechanisms operating in these peculiar larval stages.
PMCID: PMC3658878  PMID: 23642192
Echinococcus; Metacestode; Protoscolex; Nervous system; Neuropeptide; Serotonin; Acetylated tubulin
21.  Comparative Performances of Flubendazole and Albendazole in Cystic Echinococcosis: Ex Vivo Activity, Plasma/Cyst Disposition, and Efficacy in Infected Mice ▿ 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2011;55(12):5861-5867.
The need to identify improved therapy against cystic echinococcosis (CE) has motivated pharmacology-based research. The comparative pharmacological performances of the benzimidazole compounds flubendazole (FLBZ) and albendazole (ABZ) were addressed here. The goals of the work were as follows: (i) to evaluate the ex vivo activities of FLBZ, ABZ, and their respective metabolites against Echinococcus granulosus protoscoleces, (ii) to compare the plasma and cyst disposition kinetics for the two drugs in infected mice, and (iii) to compare the clinical efficacies of FLBZ and ABZ against CE in mice. For the ex vivo study, E. granulosus protoscoleces were incubated with FLBZ, reduced FLBZ (R-FLBZ), ABZ, and ABZ-sulfoxide (ABZSO) (10 nmol/ml). Protoscolex viability was monitored by the methylene blue exclusion test and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). For the pharmacokinetic study, BALB/c mice with CE were allocated to two different groups and orally treated with either FLBZ or ABZ (5 mg/kg of body weight), both formulated as a cyclodextrin-based solution. Blood and cyst samples were taken up to 12 h posttreatment and analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). For the efficacy study, CE-infected BALB/c mice were divided into three groups: the unmedicated control group and the FLBZ- and ABZ-treated groups. Oral treatments were performed twice a day during 25 days. After treatment, all animals were killed and the weight of the cysts was recorded. Loss of protoscolex viability was observed after drug incubation. FLBZ was detected in plasma (area under the concentration-versus-time curve [AUC] = 1.8 μg·h/ml) and cysts (AUC = 0.3 μg·h/g) collected from treated infected animals. Conversely, ABZSO was the only active molecule measured in plasma (AUC = 4.4 μg·h/ml) and cysts (AUC = 1.5 μg·h/g) after ABZ treatment. FLBZ induced a 90% reduction in cyst weight in comparison to those collected from untreated control mice (P < 0.05). However, no differences in cyst weight were observed between the ABZ-treated (8.2 g) and unmedicated control (10.5 g) groups. Due to these results, we consider flubendazole to have great potential to become a drug of choice in the treatment of cystic echinococcosis.
PMCID: PMC3232756  PMID: 21930885
22.  Effect of Amphotericin B on Larval Growth of Echinococcus multilocularis 
Alveolar echinococcosis is caused by the parasitic cestode Echinococcus multilocularis. Benzimidazoles, namely, mebendazole and albendazole, are the only drugs available for the treatment of inoperable alveolar echinococcosis. At present, no therapeutic alternative is available for patients with progressive disease under treatment or for patients who are unable to tolerate the side effects of the benzimidazoles. In addition, benzimidazoles are only parasitostatic for E. multilocularis. Thus, new therapeutic options are of paramount importance. In the present study we examined the in vitro effect of amphotericin B on E. multilocularis larvae. E. multilocularis metacestodes grown in the peritoneal cavities of Mongolian gerbils were transferred into a culture system. Vesicles budded from the tissue blocks and increased in number and size during the first 5 weeks. After 6 weeks drugs were added and deleterious effects on the vesicles were observed macroscopically and microscopically. By use of this in vitro tissue culture model we demonstrated that amphotericin B effectively inhibits the growth of E. multilocularis metacestodes. This destructive effect was significantly more rapid with amphotericin B than with the benzimidazoles. Cyclic treatment was effective in suppressing parasite growth. However, amphotericin B appears to be parasitostatic for E. multilocularis larvae, and regrowth occurs even after extended periods. In summary, amphotericin B constitutes the first promising alternative for the treatment of alveolar echinococcosis in cases of intolerance or resistance to benzimidazoles. It holds promise as an effective treatment option for otherwise fatal courses of disease.
PMCID: PMC151734  PMID: 12543669
23.  Biological, Epidemiological, and Clinical Aspects of Echinococcosis, a Zoonosis of Increasing Concern 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  2004;17(1):107-135.
Echinococcosis in humans is a zoonotic infection caused by larval stages (metacestodes) of cestode species of the genus Echinococcus. Cystic echinococcosis (CE) is caused by Echinococcus granulosus, alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by E. multilocularis, and polycystic forms are caused by either E. vogeli or E. oligarthrus. In untreated cases, AE has a high mortality rate. Although control is essentially feasible, CE remains a considerable health problem in many regions of the northern and southern hemispheres. AE is restricted to the northern hemisphere regions of North America and Eurasia. Recent studies have shown that E. multilocularis, the causative agent of AE, is more widely distributed than previously thought. There are also some hints of an increasing significance of polycystic forms of the disease, which are restricted to Central and South America. Various aspects of human echinococcosis are discussed in this review, including data on the infectivity of genetic variants of E. granulosus to humans, the increasing invasion of cities in Europe and Japan by red foxes, the main definitive hosts of E. multilocularis, and the first demonstration of urban cycles of the parasite. Examples of emergence or reemergence of CE are presented, and the question of potential spreading of E. multilocularis is critically assessed. Furthermore, information is presented on new and improved tools for diagnosing the infection in final hosts (dogs, foxes, and cats) by coproantigen or DNA detection and the application of molecular techniques to epidemiological studies. In the clinical field, the available methods for diagnosing human CE and AE are described and the treatment options are summarized. The development of new chemotherapeutic options for all forms of human echinococcosis remains an urgent requirement. A new option for the control of E. granulosus in the intermediate host population (mainly sheep and cattle) is vaccination. Attempts are made to reduce the prevalence of E. multilocualaris in fox populations by regular baiting with an anthelmintic (praziquantel). Recent data have shown that this control option may be used in restricted areas, for example in cities, with the aim of reducing the infection risk for humans.
PMCID: PMC321468  PMID: 14726458
24.  A Transcriptomic Analysis of Echinococcus granulosus Larval Stages: Implications for Parasite Biology and Host Adaptation 
The cestode Echinococcus granulosus - the agent of cystic echinococcosis, a zoonosis affecting humans and domestic animals worldwide - is an excellent model for the study of host-parasite cross-talk that interfaces with two mammalian hosts. To develop the molecular analysis of these interactions, we carried out an EST survey of E. granulosus larval stages. We report the salient features of this study with a focus on genes reflecting physiological adaptations of different parasite stages.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We generated ∼10,000 ESTs from two sets of full-length enriched libraries (derived from oligo-capped and trans-spliced cDNAs) prepared with three parasite materials: hydatid cyst wall, larval worms (protoscoleces), and pepsin/H+-activated protoscoleces. The ESTs were clustered into 2700 distinct gene products. In the context of the biology of E. granulosus, our analyses reveal: (i) a diverse group of abundant long non-protein coding transcripts showing homology to a middle repetitive element (EgBRep) that could either be active molecular species or represent precursors of small RNAs (like piRNAs); (ii) an up-regulation of fermentative pathways in the tissue of the cyst wall; (iii) highly expressed thiol- and selenol-dependent antioxidant enzyme targets of thioredoxin glutathione reductase, the functional hub of redox metabolism in parasitic flatworms; (iv) candidate apomucins for the external layer of the tissue-dwelling hydatid cyst, a mucin-rich structure that is critical for survival in the intermediate host; (v) a set of tetraspanins, a protein family that appears to have expanded in the cestode lineage; and (vi) a set of platyhelminth-specific gene products that may offer targets for novel pan-platyhelminth drug development.
This survey has greatly increased the quality and the quantity of the molecular information on E. granulosus and constitutes a valuable resource for gene prediction on the parasite genome and for further genomic and proteomic analyses focused on cestodes and platyhelminths.
Author Summary
Cestodes are a neglected group of platyhelminth parasites, despite causing chronic infections to humans and domestic animals worldwide. We used Echinococcus granulosus as a model to study the molecular basis of the host-parasite cross-talk during cestode infections. For this purpose, we carried out a survey of the genes expressed by parasite larval stages interfacing with definitive and intermediate hosts. Sequencing from several high quality cDNA libraries provided numerous insights into the expression of genes involved in important aspects of E. granulosus biology, e.g. its metabolism (energy production and antioxidant defences) and the synthesis of key parasite structures (notably, the one exposed to humans and livestock intermediate hosts). Our results also uncovered the existence of an intriguing set of abundant repeat-associated non-protein coding transcripts that may participate in the regulation of gene expression in all surveyed stages. The dataset now generated constitutes a valuable resource for gene prediction on the parasite genome and for further genomic and proteomic studies focused on cestodes and platyhelminths. In particular, the detailed characterization of a range of newly discovered genes will contribute to a better understanding of the biology of cestode infections and, therefore, to the development of products allowing their efficient control.
PMCID: PMC3510090  PMID: 23209850
25.  Host insulin stimulates Echinococcus multilocularis insulin signalling pathways and larval development 
BMC Biology  2014;12:5.
The metacestode of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis is the causative agent of alveolar echinococcosis, a lethal zoonosis. Infections are initiated through establishment of parasite larvae within the intermediate host’s liver, where high concentrations of insulin are present, followed by tumour-like growth of the metacestode in host organs. The molecular mechanisms determining the organ tropism of E. multilocularis or the influences of host hormones on parasite proliferation are poorly understood.
Using in vitro cultivation systems for parasite larvae we show that physiological concentrations (10 nM) of human insulin significantly stimulate the formation of metacestode larvae from parasite stem cells and promote asexual growth of the metacestode. Addition of human insulin to parasite larvae led to increased glucose uptake and enhanced phosphorylation of Echinococcus insulin signalling components, including an insulin receptor-like kinase, EmIR1, for which we demonstrate predominant expression in the parasite’s glycogen storage cells. We also characterized a second insulin receptor family member, EmIR2, and demonstrated interaction of its ligand binding domain with human insulin in the yeast two-hybrid system. Addition of an insulin receptor inhibitor resulted in metacestode killing, prevented metacestode development from parasite stem cells, and impaired the activation of insulin signalling pathways through host insulin.
Our data indicate that host insulin acts as a stimulant for parasite development within the host liver and that E. multilocularis senses the host hormone through an evolutionarily conserved insulin signalling pathway. Hormonal host-parasite cross-communication, facilitated by the relatively close phylogenetic relationship between E. multilocularis and its mammalian hosts, thus appears to be important in the pathology of alveolar echinococcosis. This contributes to a closer understanding of organ tropism and parasite persistence in larval cestode infections. Furthermore, our data show that Echinococcus insulin signalling pathways are promising targets for the development of novel drugs.
PMCID: PMC3923246  PMID: 24468049
Cestode; Tapeworm; Echinococcus; Echinococcosis; Insulin; Receptor kinase; Kinase inhibitor; Host-parasite interaction

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