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Int J Parasitol. 2006 Jan;36(1):47-56. Epub 2005 Oct 5.

Phytomonas serpens: cysteine peptidase inhibitors interfere with growth, ultrastructure and host adhesion.

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Departamento de Microbiologia Geral, Instituto de Microbiologia Prof. Paulo de Góes (IMPPG), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Ilha do Fundão, Cidade Universitária, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 21941-590, Brazil.


In this study, we report the ultrastructural and growth alterations caused by cysteine peptidase inhibitors on the plant trypanosomatid Phytomonas serpens. We showed that the cysteine peptidase inhibitors at 10 microM were able to arrest cellular growth as well as promote alterations in the cell morphology, including the parasites becoming short and round. Additionally, iodoacetamide induced ultrastructural alterations, such as disintegration of cytoplasmic organelles, swelling of the nucleus and kinetoplast-mitochondrion complex, which culminated in parasite death. Leupeptin and antipain induced the appearance of microvillar extensions and blebs on the cytoplasmic membrane, resembling a shedding process. A 40 kDa cysteine peptidase was detected in hydrophobic and hydrophilic phases of P. serpens cells after Triton X-114 extraction. Additionally, we have shown through immunoblotting that anti-cruzipain polyclonal antibodies recognised two major polypeptides in P. serpens, including a 40 kDa component. Flow cytometry analysis confirmed that this cruzipain-like protein has a location on the cell surface. Ultrastructural immunocytochemical analysis demonstrated the presence of the cruzipain-like protein on the surface and in small membrane fragments released from leupeptin-treated parasites. Furthermore, the involvement of cysteine peptidases of P. serpens in the interaction with explanted salivary glands of the phytophagous insect Oncopeltus fasciatus was also investigated. When P. serpens cells were pre-treated with either cysteine peptidase inhibitors or anti-cruzipain antibody, a significant reduction of the interaction process was observed. Collectively, these results suggest that cysteine peptidases participate in several biological processes in P. serpens including cell growth and interaction with the invertebrate vector.

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