The tropical liver fluke, Fasciola gigantica causes fasciolosis, an important disease of humans and livestock. We characterized dynamic transcriptional changes associated with the development of the parasite in its two hosts, the snail intermediate host and the mammalian definitive host.
Differential gene transcription analysis revealed 7445 unigenes transcribed by all F. gigantica lifecycle stages, while the majority (n = 50,977) exhibited stage-specific expression. Miracidia that hatch from eggs are highly transcriptionally active, expressing a myriad of genes involved in pheromone activity and metallopeptidase activity, consistent with snail host finding and invasion. Clonal expansion of rediae within the snail correlates with increased expression of genes associated with transcription, translation and repair. All intra-snail stages (miracidia, rediae and cercariae) require abundant cathepsin L peptidases for migration and feeding and, as indicated by their annotation, express genes putatively involved in the manipulation of snail innate immune responses. Cercariae emerge from the snail, settle on vegetation and become encysted metacercariae that are infectious to mammals; these remain metabolically active, transcribing genes involved in regulation of metabolism, synthesis of nucleotides, pH and endopeptidase activity to assure their longevity and survival on pasture. Dramatic growth and development following infection of the mammalian host are associated with high gene transcription of cell motility pathways, and transport and catabolism pathways. The intra-mammalian stages temporally regulate key families of genes including the cathepsin L and B proteases and their trans-activating peptidases, the legumains, during intense feeding and migration through the intestine, liver and bile ducts. While 70% of the F. gigantica transcripts share homology with genes expressed by the temperate liver fluke Fasciola hepatica, gene expression profiles of the most abundantly expressed transcripts within the comparable lifecycle stages implies significant species-specific gene regulation.
Transcriptional profiling of the F. gigantica lifecycle identified key metabolic, growth and developmental processes the parasite undergoes as it encounters vastly different environments within two very different hosts. Comparative analysis with F. hepatica provides insight into the similarities and differences of these parasites that diverged > 20 million years ago, crucial for the future development of novel control strategies against both species.