The structure and function of helminthes surfaces

Author(s): Thompson DP, Geary TG


The external surfaces of parasitic helminths, termed the “cuticle” in nematodes and the “tegument” in trematodes and cestodes, serve many biological roles. The most important is that of a barrier, which shields the organism from external conditions. Other roles include bidirectional transport of inorganic and organic molecules and structural support. The external structures of these organisms exhibit remarkable developmental changes and exhibit a complex biochemistry that is adapted for the parasitic life style. In nematodes and trematodes, the gut surface also plays an important role in digestion, nutrient absorption and transport. This chapter illustrates the structural and functional biology, biochemistry and, where available, molecular biology of these surfaces. The absence of a gut in cestodes has simplified interpretation of functional properties of the external surface. The chapter summarizes that the gastrodermis in trematodes and the intestine in nematodes are composed of cells with microvilli, which amplify the surface area for absorption. However, too little is known about transport across the internal surfaces of trematodes or nematodes to draw definitive conclusions about their importance to the parasites, or the extent to which they resemble analogous processes in other organisms.

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