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microRNA silencing in a whole worm cestode model provides insight into miR-71 function.

Parasites belonging to the class Cestoda include zoonotic species such as Echinococcus spp. and Taenia spp. that cause morbidity and mortality in endemic areas, mainly affecting pastoral and rural communities in low income countries but also upper middle income countries. Cestodes show remarkable developmental plasticity, implying tight regulation of gene expression throughout their complex life cycles. Despite the recent availability of genomic data for cestodes, little progress was made on postgenomic functional studies. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are key components of gene regulatory systems that guide diverse developmental processes in multicellular organisms. miR-71 is a highly expressed miRNA in cestodes, which is absent in vertebrates and targets essential parasite genes, representing a potential key player in understanding the role of miRNA in cestodes biology. Here we used transfection with antisense oligonucleotides to perform whole worm miRNA knockdown in tetrathyridia of Mesocestoides vogae, a laboratory model of cestodes. We believe this is the first report of miRNA knockdown at the organism level in these parasites. Our results showed that M. vogae miR-71 is involved in the control of strobilation in vitro and the establishment of murine infection. In addition, we identified miR-71 targets in M. vogae, several of them being de-repressed upon miR-71 knockdown. This study provides new knowledge on gene expression regulation in cestodes and suggests that miRNAs could be evaluated as new selective therapeutic targets for treating Neglected Tropical Diseases prioritised by the World Health Organization.

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