BACKGROUND: Penetration of skin, migration through tissues and establishment of long-lived intravascular partners require Schistosoma parasites to successfully manipulate definitive host defences. While previous studies of larval schistosomula have postulated a function for excreted/secreted (E/S) products in initiating these host-modulatory events, the role of extracellular vesicles (EVs) has yet to be considered. Here, using preparatory ultracentrifugation as well as methodologies to globally analyse both proteins and small non-coding RNAs (sncRNAs), we conducted the first characterization of Schistosoma mansoni schistosomula EVs and their potential host-regulatory cargos.
RESULTS: Transmission electron microscopy analysis of EVs isolated from schistosomula in vitro cultures revealed the presence of numerous, 30-100 nm sized exosome-like vesicles. Proteomic analysis of these vesicles revealed a core set of 109 proteins, including homologs to those previously found enriched in other eukaryotic EVs, as well as hypothetical proteins of high abundance and currently unknown function. Characterization of E/S sncRNAs found within and outside of schistosomula EVs additionally identified the presence of potential gene-regulatory miRNAs (35 known and 170 potentially novel miRNAs) and tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs; nineteen 5' tsRNAs and fourteen 3' tsRNAs).
CONCLUSIONS: The identification of S. mansoni EVs and the combinatorial protein/sncRNA characterization of their cargo signifies that an important new participant in the complex biology underpinning schistosome/host interactions has now been discovered. Further work defining the role of these schistosomula EVs and the function/stability of intra- and extra-vesicular sncRNA components presents tremendous opportunities for developing novel schistosomiasis diagnostics or interventions.