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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Mast Cells and Basophils in the Defense against Ectoparasites: Efficient Degradation of Parasite Anticoagulants by the Connective Tissue Mast Cell Chymases

Fu, Zhirong; Akula, Srinivas; Olsson, Anna-Karin; Kervinen, Jukka; Hellman, Lars


Ticks, lice, flees, mosquitos, leeches and vampire bats need to prevent the host’s blood coagulation during their feeding process. This is primarily achieved by injecting potent anticoagulant proteins. Basophils frequently accumulate at the site of tick feeding. However, this occurs only after the second encounter with the parasite involving an adaptive immune response and IgE. To study the potential role of basophils and mast cells in the defense against ticks and other ectoparasites, we produced anticoagulant proteins from three blood-feeding animals; tick, mosquito, and leech. We tested these anticoagulant proteins for their sensitivity to inactivation by a panel of hematopoietic serine proteases. The majority of the connective tissue mast cell proteases tested, originating from humans, dogs, rats, hamsters, and opossums, efficiently cleaved these anticoagulant proteins. Interestingly, the mucosal mast cell proteases that contain closely similar cleavage specificity, had little effect on these anticoagulant proteins. Ticks have been shown to produce serpins, serine protease inhibitors, upon a blood meal that efficiently inhibit the human mast cell chymase and cathepsin G, indicating that ticks have developed a strategy to inactivate these proteases. We show here that one of these tick serpins (IRS-2) shows broad activity against the majority of the mast cell chymotryptic enzymes and the neutrophil proteases from human to opossum. However, it had no effect on the mast cell tryptases or the basophil specific protease mMCP-8. The production of anticoagulants, proteases and anti-proteases by the parasite and the host presents a fascinating example of an arms race between the blood-feeding animals and the mammalian immune system with an apparent and potent role of the connective tissue mast cell chymases in the host defense.


basophils; mast cells; ectoparasites; ticks; leeches; mosquitos; anticoagulant

Published in

International Journal of Molecular Sciences
2021, Volume: 23, number: 22, article number: 12627

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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