This application proposes to functionally characterize a group of putative complement regulatory proteins (CRPs) in schistosomes to assess their potential as therapeutic targets by suppressing their gene expression through RNA interference (RNAi). Schistosomes are flatworm parasites that cause a chronic and debilitating disease afflicting more than 200 million people worldwide and causing more than 250,000 deaths/per year. These worms are well adapted to live in the vasculature of their vertebrate hosts for decades, and apparently have developed strategies to escape from the host's immune surveillance, including the potent complement system. We hypothesize that schistosomes express CRPs in their tegument (a syncytial membrane that covers the entire worm surface in direct contact with the host) as a mechanism of complement evasion. Using genome and transcriptome analysis, seven putative schistosome CRPs with significant sequence homology to human CD59 were identified. These homologues are designated here as SmCD59-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. CD59 has broad distribution in human tissues. It is a potent inhibitor of the pore-forming membrane attack complex (MAC or C5b-9) through interaction with the final complement components, C8 and C9. The hypothesis to be tested here is that one or more of these SmCD59 genes protects schistosomes from complement killing just as CD59 protects the host's cells. First, studies will be conducted to determine which of the SmCD59 proteins are complement inhibitors by expressing each homologue individually in mammalian cells and testing for their ability to prevent complement damage to transfected cells. Then, the expression of selected pools of SmCD59 genes will be suppressed in schistosomula by RNAi to assess whether these parasites become more vulnerable to complement killing in vitro. In preliminary results, gene expression was detected for all SmCD59 homologues in schistosomula and adult worms (both life stages adapted to survive in the bloodstream) and the gene expression of each SmCD59 target individually, or in pools of up to 4 gene targets have effectively been suppressed in schistosomula. If the RNAi studies are successful, this will be strong evidence that SmCD59 expression in the tegument is a major parasite defense mechanism against the host complement. This project could be then readily expanded into a larger project to explore the SmCD59 complement inhibition mechanism and to pursue strategies that exploit this knowledge in the development of new therapies or vaccines aiming to reduce the incidence and/or morbidity of schistosomiasis.

Public Health Relevance

Schistosomes are blood dwelling worms causing major problems for world health and agriculture, particularly in the developing world. This project proposes to employ modern RNA suppression methods to assess whether complement inhibitory proteins protect schistosomes from killing by the host complement system. These proteins have excellent promise as targets for new therapies and/or vaccines against schistosomiasis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Pathogenic Eukaryotes Study Section (PTHE)
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Wali, Tonu M
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Tufts University
Veterinary Sciences
Schools of Veterinary Medicine
United States
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Da'dara, Akram A; Krautz-Peterson, Greice (2014) New insights into the reaction of Schistosoma mansoni cercaria to the human complement system. Parasitol Res 113:3685-96
Farias, Leonardo P; Krautz-Peterson, Greice; Tararam, Cibele A et al. (2013) On the three-finger protein domain fold and CD59-like proteins in Schistosoma mansoni. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 7:e2482