Neuropeptides in Helminths: Occurrence and Distribution

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Nematode neuropeptide systems comprise an exceptionally complex array of similar to 250 peptidic signaling molecules that operate within a structurally simple nervous system of similar to 300 neurons. A relatively complete picture of the neuropeptide complement is available for Caenorhabditis elegans, with 30 flp, 38 ins and 43 nlp genes having been documented; accumulating evidence indicates similar complexity in parasitic nematodes from clades I, III, IV and V. In contrast, the picture for parasitic platyhelminths is less clear, with the limited peptide sequence data available providing concrete evidence for only FMRFamide-like peptide (FLP) and neuropeptide F (NPF) signaling systems, each of which only comprises one or two peptides. With the completion of the Schmidtea meditteranea and Schistosoma mansoni genome projects and expressed sequence tag datasets for other flatworm parasites becoming available, the time is ripe for a detailed reanalysis of neuropeptide signaling in flatworms. Although the actual neuropeptides provide limited obvious value as targets for chemotherapeutic-based control strategies, they do highlight the signaling systems present in these helminths and provide tools for the discovery of more amenable targets such as neuropeptide receptors or neuropeptide processing enzymes. Also, they offer opportunities to evaluate the potential of their associated signaling pathways as targets through RNA interference (RNAi)-based, target validation strategies. Currently, within both helminth phyla, the flp signaling systems appear to merit further investigation as they are intrinsically linked with motor function, a proven target for successful anti-parasitics; it is clear that some nematode NLPs also play a role in motor function and could have similar appeal. At this time, it is unclear if flatworm NPF and nematode INS peptides operate in pathways that have utility for parasite control. Clearly, RNAi-based validation could be a starting point for scoring potential target pathways within neuropeptide signaling for parasiticide discovery programs. Also, recent successes in the application of in planta-based RNAi control strategies for plant parasitic nematodes reveal a strategy whereby neuropeptide encoding genes could become targets for parasite control. The possibility of developing these approaches for the control of animal and human parasites is intriguing, but will require significant advances in the delivery of RNAi-triggers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuropeptide Systems as Targets for Parasite and Pest Control
EditorsT.G. Geary, A.G. Maule
PublisherLandes Bioscience
Number of pages29
ISBN (Print)978-1-4419-6902-6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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