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Worldwide absence of canonical benzimidazole resistance-associated mutations within β-tubulin genes from Ascaris.

BACKGROUND: The giant roundworm Ascaris is an intestinal nematode, causing ascariasis by infecting humans and pigs worldwide. Recent estimates suggest that Ascaris infects over half a billion people, with chronic infections leading to reduced growth and cognitive ability. Ascariasis affects innumerable pigs worldwide and is known to reduce production yields via decreased growth and condemnation of livers. The predominant anthelminthic drugs used to treat ascariasis are the benzimidazoles. Benzimidazoles interact with β-tubulins and block their function, and several benzimidazole resistance-associated mutations have been described in the β-tubulins of ruminant nematodes. Recent research on ascarids has shown that these canonical benzimidazole resistance-associated mutations are likely not present in the β-tubulins of Ascaris, Ascaridia or Parascaris, even in phenotypically resistant populations.

METHODS: To further determine the putative absence of key β-tubulin polymorphisms, we screened two β-tubulin isotypes of Ascaris, highly expressed in adult worms. Using adult and egg samples of Ascaris obtained from pigs and humans worldwide, we performed deep amplicon sequencing to look for canonical resistance-associated mutations in Ascaris β-tubulins. Subsequently, we examined these data in closer detail to study the population dynamics of Ascaris and genetic diversity within the two isotypes and tested whether genotypes appeared to partition across human and pig hosts.

RESULTS: In the 187 isolates, 69 genotypes were found, made up of eight haplotypes of β-tubulin isotype A and 20 haplotypes of isotype B. Single nucleotide polymorphisms were seen at 14 and 37 positions for β-tubulin isotype A and isotype B, respectively. No evidence of any canonical benzimidazole resistance-associated mutations was found in either human- or pig-derived Ascaris isolates. There was, however, a difference in the genetic diversity of each isotype and distribution of β-tubulin genotypes between human- and pig-derived Ascaris. Statistical tests of population differentiation show significant differences (p < 0.001) between pig- and human-derived worms; however, more diversity was seen between worms from different populations than worms from different hosts.

CONCLUSIONS: Our work suggests an absence of canonical β-tubulin mutations within Ascaris, but alternative modes of anthelminthic resistance may emerge necessitating continued genetic scrutiny alongside monitoring of drug efficacy.

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