BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE The cholinergic agonist levamisole is widely used to treat parasitic nematode infestations. This anthelmintic drug paralyses worms by activating a class of levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors (L-AChRs) expressed in nematode muscle cells. However, levamisole efficacy has been compromised by the emergence of drug-resistant parasites, especially in gastrointestinal nematodes such as Haemonchus contortus. We report here the first functional reconstitution and pharmacological characterization of H. contortus L-AChRs in a heterologous expression system.
EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH In the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, five AChR subunit and three ancillary protein genes are necessary in vivo and in vitro to synthesize L-AChRs. We have cloned the H. contortus orthologues of these genes and expressed them in Xenopus oocytes. We reconstituted two types of H. contortus L-AChRs with distinct pharmacologies by combining different receptor subunits.
KEY RESULTS The Hco-ACR-8 subunit plays a pivotal role in selective sensitivity to levamisole. As observed with C. elegans L-AChRs, expression of H. contortus receptors requires the ancillary proteins Hco-RIC-3, Hco-UNC-50 and Hco-UNC-74. Using this experimental system, we demonstrated that a truncated Hco-UNC-63 L-AChR subunit, which was specifically detected in a levamisole-resistant H. contortus isolate, but not in levamisole-sensitive strains, hampers the normal function of L-AChRs, when co-expressed with its full-length counterpart.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS We provide the first functional evidence for a putative molecular mechanism involved in levamisole resistance in any parasitic nematode. This expression system will provide a means to analyse molecular polymorphisms associated with drug resistance at the electrophysiological level.