Lessons from bloodless worms: heme homeostasis in C. elegans
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Heme is an essential cofactor for proteins involved in diverse biological processes such as oxygen transport, electron transport, and microRNA processing. Free heme is hydrophobic and cytotoxic, implying that specific trafficking pathways must exist for the delivery of heme to target hemoproteins which reside in various subcellular locales. Although heme biosynthesis and catabolism have been well characterized, the pathways for trafficking heme within and between cells remain poorly understood. Caenorhabditis elegans serves as a unique animal model for uncovering these pathways because, unlike vertebrates, the worm lacks enzymes to synthesize heme and therefore is crucially dependent on dietary heme for sustenance. Using C. elegans as a genetic animal model, several novel heme trafficking molecules have been identified. Importantly, these proteins have corresponding homologs in vertebrates underscoring the power of using C. elegans, a bloodless worm, in elucidating pathways in heme homeostasis and hematology in humans. Since iron deficiency and anemia are often exacerbated by parasites such as helminths and protozoa which also rely on host heme for survival, C. elegans will be an ideal model to identify anti-parasitic drugs that target heme transport pathways unique to the parasite.
KeywordsHeme Iron Porphyrin Helminths C. elegans Micronutrient Anemia
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