Characterization of parasite-specific indels and their proposed relevance for selective anthelminthic drug targeting

Qi Wang, Esley Heizer, Bruce A. Rosa, Scott A. Wildman, James W. Janetka, Makedonka Mitreva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Insertions and deletions (indels) are important sequence variants that are considered as phylogenetic markers that reflect evolutionary adaptations in different species. In an effort to systematically study indels specific to the phylum Nematoda and their structural impact on the proteins bearing them, we examined over 340,000 polypeptides from 21 nematode species spanning the phylum, compared them to non-nematodes and identified indels unique to nematode proteins in more than 3000 protein families. Examination of the amino acid composition revealed uneven usage of amino acids for insertions and deletions. The amino acid composition and cost, along with the secondary structure constitution of the indels, were analyzed in the context of their biological pathway associations. Species-specific indels could enable indel-based targeting for drug design in pathogens/parasites. Therefore, we screened the spatial locations of the indels in the parasite's protein 3D structures, determined the location of the indel and identified potential unique drug targeting sites. These indels could be confirmed by RNA-Seq data. Examples are presented illustrating the close proximity of some indels to established small-molecule binding pockets that can potentially facilitate selective targeting to the parasites and bypassing their host, thus reducing or eliminating the toxicity of the potential drugs. This study presents an approach for understanding the adaptation of pathogens/parasites at a molecular level, and outlines a strategy to identify such nematode-selective targets that remain essential to the organism. With further experimental characterization and validation, it opens a possible channel for the development of novel treatments with high target specificity, addressing both host toxicity and resistance concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-211
Number of pages11
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Drug targets
  • Insertions and deletions
  • Nematodes
  • Parasites
  • Selective targeting
  • Spatial structures of proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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