Adult schistosomes, parasitic flatworms that cause the tropical disease schistosomiasis, have always been considered to be homolactic fermenters and, in their energy metabolism, strictly dependent on carbohydrates. However, more recent studies suggested that fatty acid b-oxidation is essential for egg production by adult female Schistosoma mansoni. To address this conundrum, we performed a comprehensive study on the lipid metabolism of S. mansoni. Incubations with [14C]-labelled fatty acids demonstrated that adults, eggs and miracidia of S. mansoni did not oxidise fatty acids, as no 14CO2 production could be detected. We then re-examined the S. mansoni genome using the genes known to be involved in fatty acid oxidation in six eukaryotic model reference species. This showed that the earlier automatically annotated genes for fatty acid oxidation were in fact incorrectly annotated. In a further analysis we could not detect any genes encoding b-oxidation enzymes, which demonstrates that S. mansoni cannot use this pathway in any of its lifecycle stages. The same was true for Schistosoma japonicum and all other schistosome species that have been sequenced. Absence of b-oxidation, however, does not imply that fatty acids from the host are not metabolised by schistosomes. Adult schistosomes can use and modify fatty acids from their host for biosynthetic purposes and incorporate those in phospholipids and neutral lipids. Female worms deposit large amounts of these lipids in the eggs they produce, which explains why interference with the lipid metabolism in females will disturb egg formation, even though fatty acid b-oxidation does not occur in schistosomes. Our analyses of S. mansoni further revealed that during the development and maturation of the miracidium inside the egg, changes in lipid composition occur which indicate that fatty acids deposited in the egg by the female worm are used for phospholipid biosynthesis required for membrane formation in the developing miracidium.

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Keywords Beta-oxidation, Energy metabolism, Helminths, Lipid metabolism, Schistosomiasis, Genome analysis
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Journal International Journal for Parasitology
Bexkens, M.L, Mebius, M.M., Houweling, M, Brouwers, J.F, Tielens, A.G.M, & van Hellemond, J.J. (2019). Schistosoma mansoni does not and cannot oxidise fatty acids, but these are used for biosynthetic purposes instead. International Journal for Parasitology, 49(8), 647–656. doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2019.03.005