Science: my publications

This is the up to date list of my scientific contributions.

1) H+-dependent inorganic phosphate uptake in Trypanosoma brucei is influenced by myo-inositol transporter. Mar 31, 2017 Bioenerg Biomembr.

Trypanosoma brucei is an extracellular protozoan parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness”. During the different phases of its life cycle, T. brucei depends on exogenous inorganic phosphate (Pi), but little is known about the transport of Pi in this organism. In the present study, we showed that the transport of 32Pi across the plasma membrane follows Michaelis-Menten kinetics and is modulated by pH variation, with higher activity at acidic pH. Bloodstream forms presented lower Pi transport in comparison to procyclic forms, that displayed an apparent K0.5 = 0.093 ± 0.008 mM. Additionally, FCCP (H+-ionophore), valinomycin (K+-ionophore) and SCH28080 (H+, K+-ATPase inhibitor) inhibited the Pi transport. Gene Tb11.02.3020, previously described to encode the parasite H+:myo-inositol transporter (TbHMIT), was hypothesized to be potentially involved in the H+:Pi cotransport because of its similarity with the Pho84 transporter described in S. cerevisiae and other trypanosomatids. Indeed, the RNAi mediated knockdown remarkably reduced TbHMIT gene expression, compromised cell growth and decreased Pi transport by half. In addition, Pi transport was inhibited when parasites were incubated in the presence of concentrations of myo-inositol that are above 300 μM. However, when expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes, two-electrode voltage clamp experiments provided direct electrophysiological evidence that the protein encoded by TbHMIT is definitely a myo-inositol transporter that may be only marginally affected by the presence of Pi. These results confirmed the presence of a Pi carrier in T. brucei, similar to the H+-dependent inorganic phosphate system described in S. cerevisiae and other trypanosomatids. This transport system contributes to the acquisition of Pi and may be involved in the growth and survival of procyclic forms. In summary, this work presents the first description of a Pi transport system in T. brucei.

2) Deficiency of glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase 1 decreases triacylglycerol storage and induces fatty acid oxidation in insect fat body.

Feb 28, 2017. Biochim Biophys Acta

Glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferases (GPAT) catalyze the initial and rate-limiting step for the de novo synthesis of triacylglycerol (TAG). Four mammalian GPAT isoforms have been identified: the mitochondria-associated GPAT1 and 2, and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated GPAT3 and 4. In the insect Rhodnius prolixus, a vector of Chagas’ disease, we previously predicted a mitochondrial-like isoform (RhoprGPAT1) from genomic data. In the current study, we clone the RhoprGPAT1 coding sequence and identify an ER-associated GPAT (RhoprGPAT4) as the second isoform in the insect. RhoprGPAT1 contributes 15% of the total GPAT activity in anterior midgut, 50% in posterior midgut and fat body, and 70% in the ovary. The RhoprGpat1 gene is the predominant transcript in the midgut and fat body. To evaluate the physiological relevance of RhoprGPAT1, we generate RhoprGPAT1-deficient insects. The knockdown of RhoprGpat1 results in 50% and 65% decrease in TAG content in the posterior midgut and fat body, respectively. RhoprGpat1-deficient insects also exhibits impaired lipid droplet expansion and a 2-fold increase in fatty acid β-oxidation rates in the fat body. We propose that the RhoprGPAT1 mitochondrial-like isoform is required to channel fatty acyl chains towards TAG synthesis and away from β-oxidation. Such a process is crucial for the insect lipid homeostasis.

3) Hyperglycemia exacerbates colon cancer malignancy through hexosamine biosynthetic pathway

Feb 28, 2017. Oncogenesis

Hyperglycemia is a common feature of diabetes mellitus, considered as a risk factor for cancer. However, its direct effects in cancer cell behavior are relatively unexplored. Herein we show that high glucose concentration induces aberrant glycosylation, increased cell proliferation, invasion and tumor progression of colon cancer. By modulating the activity of the rate-limiting enzyme, glutamine-fructose-6-phosphate amidotransferase (GFAT), we demonstrate that hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP) is involved in those processes. Biopsies from patients with colon carcinoma show increased levels of GFAT and consequently aberrant glycans’ expression suggesting an increase of HBP flow in human colon cancer. All together, our results open the possibility that HBP links hyperglycemia, aberrant glycosylation and tumor malignancy, and suggest this pathway as a potential therapeutic target for colorectal cancer.

4)  Lipid metabolism in Rhodnius prolixus: Lessons from the genome

Jan 5, 2017. Gene.

The kissing bug Rhodnius prolixus is both an important vector of Chagas’ disease and an interesting model for investigation into the field of physiology, including lipid metabolism. The publication of this insect genome will bring a huge amount of new molecular biology data to be used in future experiments. Although this work represents a promising scenario, a preliminary analysis of the sequence data is necessary to identify and annotate the genes involved in lipid metabolism. Here, we used bioinformatics tools and gene expression analysis to explore genes from different genes families and pathways, including genes for fat breakdown, as lipases and phospholipases, and enzymes from β-oxidation, fatty acid metabolism, and acyl-CoA and glycerolipid synthesis. The R. prolixus genome encodes 31 putative lipase genes, including 21 neutral lipases and 5 acid lipases. The expression profiles of some of these genes were analyzed. We were able to identify nine phospholipase A2 genes. A variety of gene families that participate in fatty acid synthesis and modification were studied, including fatty acid synthase, elongase, desaturase and reductase. Concerning the synthesis of glycerolipids, we found a second isoform of glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase that was ubiquitously expressed throughout the organs. Finally, all genes involved in fatty acid β-oxidation were identified, but not a long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase. These results provide fundamental data to be used in future research on insect lipid metabolism and its possible relevance to Chagas’ disease transmission.

5) Epithelial mesenchymal transition induces aberrant glycosylation through hexosamine biosynthetic pathway activation

Apr 15, 2016.  Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Deregulated cellular metabolism is a hallmark of tumors. Cancer cells increase glucose and glutamine flux to provide energy needs and macromolecular synthesis demands. Several studies have been focused in importance of glycolysis and pentose phosphate pathway. However, a neglected but very important branch of glucose metabolism is the hexosamine biosynthesis pathway (HBP). The HBP is a branch of the glucose metabolic pathway that consumes approximately 2–5% of the total glucose, generating UDP-GlcNAc as the end-product. UDP-GlcNAc is the donor substrate used in multiple glycosylation reactions. Thus, HBP links the altered metabolism with aberrant glycosylation providing a mechanism of how cancer cells can sense and respond to microenvironmentchanges. Here, we investigate the changes of glucose metabolism during epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), and the role of O-GlcNAcylation in this process. We show that A549 cells increase glucose uptake during EMT, but instead of increasing the glycolysis and pentose phosphate pathway, the glucose is shunted through the HBP.The activation of HBP induces an aberrant cell surface glycosylation and O-GlcNAcylation. The cell surface glycansdi splay an increase of sialylation α2-6, poly-LacNAc and fucosylation, all known epitopes found in different tumor models. In addition, modulation of O-GlcNAc levels was demonstrated to be important during EMT process. Taken together, our results indicatethat EMT is an applicable model to study metabolic and glycophenotype changes during carcinogenesis, suggesting that cell glycosylation senses metabolic changes and modulates cell plasticity.

6)  Long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase 2 knockdown leads to decreased fatty acid oxidation in fat body and reduced reproductive capacity in the insect Rhodnius prolixus

Apr 4, 2016.  Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA).

Long-chain acyl-CoA esters are important intermediates in lipid metabolism and are synthesized from fatty acids by long-chain acyl-CoA synthetases (ACSL). The hematophagous insect Rhodnius prolixus, a vector of Chagas’ disease, produces glycerolipids in the midgut after a blood meal, which are are stored as triacylglycerol in the fat body and eggs. We identified twenty acyl-CoA synthetase genes in R. prolixus, two encoding ACSL isoforms (RhoprAcsl1 and RhoprAcsl2). RhoprAcsl1 transcripts increased in posterior midgut on the second day after feeding, and RhoprAcsl2 was highly transcribed on the tenth day. Both enzymes were expressed in Escherichia coli. Recombinant RhoprACSL1 and RhoprACSL2 had broad pH optima (7.5-9.5 and 6.5-9.5, respectively), were inhibited by triacsin C, and were rosiglitazone-insensitive. Both showed similar apparent Km for palmitic and oleic acid (2-6 µM), but different Km for arachidonic acid (0.5 and 6 µM for RhoprACSL1-Flag and RhoprACSL2-Flag, respectively). The knockdown of RhoprAcsl1 did not result in noticeable phenotypes. However, RhoprACSL2 deficient insects exhibited 2.5-fold increase in triacylglycerol content in the fat body, and 90% decrease in fatty acid β-oxidation. RhoprAcsl2 knockdown also resulted in 20% increase in lifespan, delayed digestion, 30% reduced oviposition, and 50% reduction in egg hatching. Laid eggs and hatched nymphs showed remarkable alterations in morphology. In summary, R. prolixus ACSL isoforms have distinct roles on lipid metabolism. Although RhoprACSL1 functions remain unclear, we propose that RhoprACSL2 is the main contributor for the formation of the intracellular acyl-CoA pool channeled for β-oxidation in the fat body, and is also required for normal reproduction.

7) Adipokinetic Hormone Receptor gene identification and its role in triacylglycerol metabolism in the blood-sucking insect Rhodnius prolixus

Jan 2016. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Adipokinetic hormone (AKH) has been associated with the control of energy metabolism in a large number of arthropod species due to its role on the stimulation of lipid, carbohydrate and amino acid mobilization/release. In the insect Rhodnius prolixus, a vector of Chagas’ disease, triacylglycerol (TAG) stores must be mobilized to sustain the metabolic requirements during moments of exercise or starvation. Besides the recent identification of the R. prolixus AKH peptide, other components required for the AKH signalling cascade and its mode of action remain uncharacterized in this insect. In the present study, we identified and investigated the expression profile of the gene encoding the AKH receptor of R. prolixus (RhoprAkhr). This gene is highly conserved in comparison to other sequences already described and its transcript is abundant in the fat body and the flight muscle of the kissing bug. Moreover, RhoprAkhr expression is induced in the fat body at moments of increased TAG mobilization; the knockdown of this gene resulted in TAG accumulation both in fat body and flight muscle after starvation. The inhibition of Rhopr-AKHR transcription as well as the treatment of insects with the peptide Rhopr-AKH in its synthetic form altered the transcript levels of two genes involved in lipid metabolism, the acyl-CoA-binding protein-1 (RhoprAcbp1) and the mitochondrial glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (RhoprGpat1). These results indicate that the AKH receptor is regulated at transcriptional level and is required for TAG mobilization under starvation. In addition to the classical view of AKH as a direct regulator of enzymatic activity, we propose here that AKH signaling may account for the regulation of nutrient metabolism by affecting the expression profile of target genes.

8)  Genome of Rhodnius prolixus, an insect vector of Chagas disease, reveals unique adaptations to hematophagy and parasite infection.

Dec 1, 2015. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Rhodnius prolixus not only has served as a model organism for the study of insect physiology, but also is a major vector of Chagas disease, an illness that affects approximately seven million people worldwide. We sequenced the genome of R. prolixus, generated assembled sequences covering 95% of the genome (∼ 702 Mb), including 15,456 putative protein-coding genes, and completed comprehensive genomic analyses of this obligate blood-feeding insect. Although immune-deficiency (IMD)-mediated immune responses were observed, R. prolixus putatively lacks key components of the IMD pathway, suggesting a reorganization of the canonical immune signaling network. Although both Toll and IMD effectors controlled intestinal microbiota, neither affected Trypanosoma cruzi, the causal agent of Chagas disease, implying the existence of evasion or tolerance mechanisms. R. prolixus has experienced an extensive loss of selenoprotein genes, with its repertoire reduced to only two proteins, one of which is a selenocysteine-based glutathione peroxidase, the first found in insects. The genome contained actively transcribed, horizontally transferred genes from Wolbachia sp., which showed evidence of codon use evolution toward the insect use pattern. Comparative protein analyses revealed many lineage-specific expansions and putative gene absences in R. prolixus, including tandem expansions of genes related to chemoreception, feeding, and digestion that possibly contributed to the evolution of a blood-feeding lifestyle. The genome assembly and these associated analyses provide critical information on the physiology and evolution of this important vector species and should be instrumental for the development of innovative disease control methods.