Helminth parasites (nematodes, flatworms and cestodes) infect over 1 billion of the world's population causing high morbidity and mortality. The large tissue-dwelling worms express papain-like cysteine peptidases, termed cathepsins that play important roles in virulence including host entry, tissue migration and the suppression of host immune responses. Much of our knowledge of helminth cathepsins comes from studies using flatworms or trematode (fluke) parasites. The developmentally-regulated expression of these proteases correlates with the passage of parasites through host tissues and their encounters with different host macromolecules. Recent phylogenetic, biochemical and structural studies indicate that trematode cathepsins exhibit overlapping but distinct substrate specificities due to divergence within the protease active site. Here we provide an overview of the evolution, biochemistry and structure of these important enzymes and highlight how recent advances in proteomics and gene silencing techniques are allowing researchers to probe their biological functions. We focus mainly on members of the cathepsin L gene family of the animal and human pathogen, Fasciola hepatica, because of our deep understanding of their function, biochemistry and structure.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)