Incubation of Schistosoma mansoni lung-stage larvae in 90% corn oil for 6 hr was shown to elicit exposure of their, otherwise masked, apical membrane antigens to binding of anti-schistosome antibodies in the indirect membrane immunofluorescence test (IF). The possibility that unsaturated fatty acids (FA) are responsible for this effect was herein supported by IF data on ex vivo lung-stage larvae of S. mansoni and S. haematobium incubated for ½–2 hr with 80% corn oil, 50% olive oil, or 10– 20 μM arachidonic acid. Treatment with unsaturated FA followed by filipin staining for cholesterol visualization indicated that unsaturated FA do not induce exposure of schistosomular surface membrane antigens via extraction of surface membrane cholesterol. Evidence using inhibitors and stimulators of neutral sphingomyelinase suggested that unsaturated FA perhaps activate worm tegument-bound neutral sphingomyelinase, leading to sphingomyelin hydrolysis and changes in surface membrane fluidity. Larval apical membrane antigens are, thus, allowed to diffuse freely in the plane of the membrane and bind specific antibodies in IF. Excessive sphingomyelin hydrolysis might explain why high FA concentrations or long incubation periods eventually lead to larval death. The significant decrease (P < 0.01) in S. mansoni and increase (P < 0.02) in S. haematobium worm recovery in BALB/c mice given unsaturated FA-high and -poor diets, respectively, indicated these findings have in vivo relevance and led to the proposal that unsaturated FA likely plays a role in natural attrition of S. mansoni and S. haematobium lung-stage larvae.

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