Application of small RNA technology for improved control of parasitic helminths

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Over the last decade microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) have emerged as important regulators of post-transcriptional gene expression. miRNAs are short, non-coding RNAs that regulate a variety of processes including cancer, organ development and immune function. This class of small RNAs bind with partial complementarity to their target mRNA sequences, most often in the 3'UTR, to negatively regulate gene expression. In parasitic helminths, miRNAs are being increasingly studied for their potential roles in development and host-parasite interactions. The availability of genome data, combined with small RNA sequencing, has paved the way to profile miRNAs expressed at particular developmental stages for many parasitic helminths. While some miRNAs are conserved across species, others appear to be unique to specific parasites, suggesting important roles in adaptation and survival in the host environment. Some miRNAs are released from parasites, in exosomes or in protein complexes, and the potential effects of these on host immune function are being increasingly studied. In addition, release of miRNAs from schistosome and filarial parasites into host plasma can be exploited for the development of specific and sensitive diagnostic biomarkers of infection. Interfering with miRNA function, as well as silencing key components of the pathways they regulate, will progress our understanding of parasite development and provide a novel approach to therapeutic control. RNA interference (RNAi) by siRNAs has proven to be inconsistent in parasitic nematodes. However, the recent successes reported for schistosome and liver fluke RNAi, encourage further efforts to enhance delivery of RNA and improve in vitro culture systems and assays to monitor phenotypic effects in nematodes. These improvements are important for the establishment of reliable functional genomic platforms for novel drug and vaccine development. In this review we focus on the important roles of miRNAs and siRNAs in post-transcriptional gene regulation in veterinary parasitic helminths and the potential value of these in parasite diagnosis and control.




Britton, C., Winter, A. D., Marks, N. D., Gu, H., McNeilly, T. N., Gillan, V., & Devaney, E. (2015). Application of small RNA technology for improved control of parasitic helminths. Veterinary Parasitology, 212(1–2), 47–53.

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