Schistosomiasis is the most important helminthic disease of humanity in terms of morbidity and mortality. Facile manipulation of schistosomes using lentiviruses would enable advances in functional genomics in these and related neglected tropical diseases pathogens including tapeworms, and including their non-dividing cells. Such approaches have hitherto been unavailable. Blood stream forms of the human blood fluke, Schistosoma mansoni, the causative agent of the hepatointestinal schistosomiasis, were infected with the human HIV-1 isolate NL4-3 pseudotyped with vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein. The appearance of strong stop and positive strand cDNAs indicated that virions fused to schistosome cells, the nucleocapsid internalized and the RNA genome reverse transcribed. Anchored PCR analysis, sequencing HIV-1-specific anchored Illumina libraries and Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) of schistosomes confirmed chromosomal integration; >8,000 integrations were mapped, distributed throughout the eight pairs of chromosomes including the sex chromosomes. The rate of integrations in the genome exceeded five per 1,000 kb and HIV-1 integrated into protein-encoding loci and elsewhere with integration bias dissimilar to that of human T cells. We estimated ~ 2,100 integrations per schistosomulum based on WGS, i.e. about two or three events per cell, comparable to integration rates in human cells. Accomplishment in schistosomes of post-entry processes essential for HIV-1replication, including integrase-catalyzed integration, was remarkable given the phylogenetic distance between schistosomes and primates, the natural hosts of the genus Lentivirus. These enigmatic findings revealed that HIV-1 was active within cells of S. mansoni, and provided the first demonstration that HIV-1 can integrate into the genome of an invertebrate.
Schistosomiasis is a major neglected tropical disease (NTD), which afflicts > 200 million people in developing countries. The genome sequence of the schistosome parasite has been decoded; it includes > 10,000 genes. New approaches to control this NTD are sought and genomic information may provide targets for new treatments. Methods to determine the role and importance of specific genes would facilitate these tasks. The retrovirus HIV-1, the causative agent of HIV/AIDS, has been extensively studied and modified for use in biomedical research. Using a lab-modified form of HIV-1, we manipulated the genome of Schistosoma mansoni, one of the major species of schistosomes. Lab-modified HIV-1 infected schistosomes and inserted in the chromosomes of the parasite. These chromosomal insertions were mapped using next generation sequencing and were distributed throughout the chromosomes including the sex chromosomes. The findings were notable since they revealed that HIV-1 was active within cells of S. mansoni, and they provide the first demonstration that HIV-1 can integrate into the genome of an invertebrate. They pave a route forward for investigating new therapies for schistosomiasis.