Trypanosoma cruzi lipids contain a high content of unsaturated fatty acids, primarily oleic acid (C18:1) and linoleic acid (C18:2). Previous data suggest that this parasite is able to convert oleic acid into linoleic acid; humans are not able to do this. Presently, we show that T. cruzi has a gene with high similarity to the Δ12 (ω6)-oleate desaturase from plants. Northern blot analysis of the oleate desaturase gene from T. cruzi (ODTc) indicated that this gene is transcribed in epimastigote, amastigote, and trypomastigote forms. Pulsed-field analysis showed that ODTc is located at distinct chromosomal bands on distinct T. cruzi phylogenetic groups. In addition, the chromoblot analysis demonstrated the presence of homologous ODTc genes in several trypanosomatids; namely, Crithidia fasciculata, Herpetomonas megaseliae, Leptomonas seymouri, Trypanosoma freitasi, Trypanosoma rangeli, Trypanosoma lewisi, Blastocrithidia sp., Leishmania amazonensis, Endotrypanum schaudinni, and Trypanosoma conorhini. The native ODTc activity was detected by metabolic labeling and analysis of total fatty acids from epimastigotes and trypomastigotes of T. cruzi, coanomastigotes of C. fasciculata, and promastigotes of L. amazonensis, H. megaseliae, and L. seymouri. The fact that the enzyme oleate desaturase is not present in humans makes it an ideal molecular target for the development of new chemotherapeutic approaches against Chagas disease.

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