International Journal for Parasitology vol:38 issue:13 pages:1545-1556
The transthyretin-like (ttl) gene family is one of the largest conserved nematode-specific gene families, coding for a group of proteins with significant sequence similarity to transthyretins (TTR) and transthyretin-related proteins (TRP). In the present study, we investigated the ttl family in Ostertagia ostertagi (a nematode of the abomasum of cattle). Mining of expressed sequence tag (EST) databases revealed the presence of at least 18 ttl genes in O. ostertagi (Oo-ttl), most of which are constitutively transcribed from the free-living, third larval stage onwards. The full-length cDNA of one of these genes (Oo-ttl-1) was amplified and cloned for recombinant expression. Western blot analysis using a specific antiserum showed that the native protein Oo-TTL-1 was highly present in the excretory-secretory (ES) products of adults of O. ostertagi. The protein was immunolocalized to the pseudocoelomic fluid of adult worms. A phylogenetic-bioinformatic analysis of all amino acid sequence data for TTL proteins from a range of strongylid nematodes showed that they could be divided into at least five different classes. This classification was based on conserved amino acids in the first TTL signature domain and the number and location of cysteine residues. The biological role(s) of the TTLs in nematode biology is still unclear. A theoretical three-dimensional model of Oo-TTL-1 indicated that it had a similar structure to TTRs (i.e., containing beta-sheets, arranged in a beta-sandwich). In contrast to TTRs, competitive binding studies using recombinant Oo-TTL-1 indicated that the protein was devoid of any hydrophobic ligand- or thyroid hormone-binding properties. Finally, combinatorial analysis by double-stranded RNA interference of five ttl genes in the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans did not reveal any visible phenotypes. More information on the transcription profile and tissue distribution of TTLs in nematodes is needed to provide new insights into the biological role of this gene family.