Identification of candidate mimicry proteins involved in parasite-driven phenotypic changes

Francois Olivier Hebert*, Luke Phelps, Irene Samonte, Mahesh Panchal, Stephan Grambauer, Iain Barber, Martin Kalbe, Christian R. Landry, Nadia Aubin-Horth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Endoparasites with complex life cycles are faced with several biological challenges, as they need to occupy various ecological niches throughout their development. Host phenotypes that increase the parasite's transmission rate to the next host have been extensively described, but few mechanistic explanations have been proposed to describe their proximate causes. In this study we explore the possibility that host phenotypic changes are triggered by the production of mimicry proteins from the parasite by using an ecological model system consisting of the infection of the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) by the cestode Schistocephalus solidus. Method: Using RNA-seq data, we assembled 9,093 protein-coding genes from which ORFs were predicted to generate a reference proteome. Based on a previously published method, we built two complementary analysis pipelines to i) establish a general classification of protein similarity among various species (pipeline A) and ii) identify candidate mimicry proteins showing specific host-parasite similarities (pipeline B), a key feature underlying the possibility of molecular mimicry. Results: Ninety-four tapeworm proteins showed high local sequence homology with stickleback proteins. Four of these candidates correspond to secreted or membrane proteins that could be produced by the parasite and eventually be released in or be in contact with the host to modulate physiological pathways involved in various phenotypes (e.g. behaviors). One of these candidates belongs to the Wnt family, a large group of signaling molecules involved in cell-to-cell interactions and various developmental pathways. The three other candidates are involved in ion transport and post-translational protein modifications. We further confirmed that these four candidates are expressed in three different developmental stages of the cestode by RT-PCR, including the stages found in the host. Conclusion: In this study, we identified mimicry candidate peptides from a behavior-altering cestode showing specific sequence similarity with host proteins. Despite their potential role in modulating host pathways that could lead to parasite-induced phenotypic changes and despite our confirmation that they are expressed in the developmental stage corresponding to the altered host behavior, further investigations will be needed to confirm their mechanistic role in the molecular cross-talk taking place between S. solidus and the threespine stickleback.

Original languageEnglish
Article number225
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2015


  • Cestodes
  • Ecological genomics
  • Genomics/proteomics
  • Host-parasite interactions
  • Molecular mimicry
  • Parasites
  • RT-PCR
  • Schistocephalus solidus
  • Wnt
  • Cestoda/growth & development
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Molecular Mimicry
  • Animals
  • Helminth Proteins/genetics
  • Smegmamorpha/parasitology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions


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