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FEBS Lett. 2002 Aug 14;525(1-3):3-6.

Vampires, Pasteur and reactive oxygen species. Is the switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism a preventive antioxidant defence in blood-feeding parasites?

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Departamento de Bioqui;mica Médica, Centro de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Av. Brigadeiro Trompowsky, s/n, Cidade Universitária, Ilha do Fundão, RJ 21941-590, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


Several species of parasites show a reduction of their respiratory activity along their developmental cycles after they start to feed on vertebrate blood, relying on anaerobic degradation of carbohydrates to achieve their energy requirements. Usually, these parasites choose not to breathe despite of living in an environment of high oxygen availability such as vertebrate blood. Absence of the 'Pasteur effect' in most of these parasites has been well documented. Interestingly, together with the switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism in these parasites, there is clear evidence pointing to an increase in their antioxidant defences. As the respiratory chain in mitochondria is a major site of production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), we propose here that the arrest of respiration constitutes an adaptation to avoid the toxic effects of ROS. This situation would be especially critical for blood-feeding parasites because ROS produced in mitochondria would interact with pro-oxidant products of blood digestion, such as haem and/or iron, and increase the oxidative damage to the parasite's cells.

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