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Biomedical Sciences

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Published Version

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PLoS Pathogens





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Acetylcholine is the canonical excitatory neurotransmitter of the mammalian neuromuscular system. However, in the trematode parasite Schistosoma mansoni, cholinergic stimulation leads to muscle relaxation and a flaccid paralysis, suggesting an inhibitory mode of action. Information about the pharmacological mechanism of this inhibition is lacking. Here, we used a combination of techniques to assess the role of cholinergic receptors in schistosome motor function. The neuromuscular effects of acetylcholine are typically mediated by gated cation channels of the nicotinic receptor (nAChR) family. Bioinformatics analyses identified numerous nAChR subunits in the S. mansoni genome but, interestingly, nearly half of these subunits carried a motif normally associated with chloride-selectivity. These putative schistosome acetylcholine-gated chloride channels (SmACCs) are evolutionarily divergent from those of nematodes and form a unique clade within the larger family of nAChRs. Pharmacological and RNA interference (RNAi) behavioral screens were used to assess the role of the SmACCs in larval motor function. Treatment with antagonists produced the same effect as RNAi suppression of SmACCs; both led to a hypermotile phenotype consistent with abrogation of an inhibitory neuromuscular mediator. Antibodies were then generated against two of the SmACCs for use in immunolocalization studies. SmACC-1 and SmACC-2 localize to regions of the peripheral nervous system that innervate the body wall muscles, yet neither appears to be expressed directly on the musculature. One gene, SmACC-1, was expressed in HEK-293 cells and characterized using an iodide flux assay. The results indicate that SmACC-1 formed a functional homomeric chloride channel and was activated selectively by a panel of cholinergic agonists. The results described in this study identify a novel clade of nicotinic chloride channels that act as inhibitory modulators of schistosome neuromuscular function. Additionally, the iodide flux assay used to characterize SmACC-1 represents a new high-throughput tool for drug screening against these unique parasite ion channels.


This article is from PLoS Pathog 10(6): e1004181. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004181. Posted with permission.


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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MacDonald et al.



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