Enzymes involved in the biogenesis of the nematode cuticle

Author(s): Page AP, Winter AD


Nematodes include species that are significant parasites of man, his domestic animals and crops, and cause chronic debilitating diseases in the developing world; such as lymphatic filariasis and river blindness caused by filarial species. Around one third of the World's population harbour parasitic nematodes; no vaccines exist for prevention of infection, limited effective drugs are available and drug resistance is an ever-increasing problem. A critical structure of the nematode is the protective cuticle, a collagen-rich extracellular matrix (ECM) that forms the exoskeleton, and is critical for viability. This resilient structure is synthesized sequentially five times during nematode development and offers protection from the environment, including the hosts' immune response. The detailed characterization of this complex structure; it's components, and the means by which they are synthesized, modified, processed and assembled will identify targets that may be exploited in the future control of parasitic nematodes. This review will focus on the nematode cuticle. This structure is predominantly composed of collagens, a class of proteins that are modified by a range of co- and post-translational modifications prior to assembly into higher order complexes or ECMs. The collagens and their associated enzymes have been comprehensively characterized in vertebrate systems and some of these studies will be addressed in this review. Conversely, the biosynthesis of this class of essential structural proteins has not been studied in such detail in the nematodes. As with all morphogenetic, functional and developmental studies in the Nematoda phylum, the free-living species Caenorhabditis elegans has proven to be invaluable in the characterization of the cuticle and the cuticle collagen gene family, and is now proving to be an excellent model in the study of cuticle collagen biosynthetic enzymes. This model system will be the main focus of this review.

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