Research Article

Echinococcus multilocularis as an experimental model in stem cell research and molecular host-parasite interaction

K. BREHMa1 c1

a1 University of Würzburg, Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany


Totipotent somatic stem cells (neoblasts) are key players in the biology of flatworms and account for their amazing regenerative capability and developmental plasticity. During recent years, considerable progress has been made in elucidating molecular features of neoblasts from free-living flatworms, whereas their role in parasitic species has so far merely been addressed by descriptive studies. Very recently, however, significant advances have been made in the in vitro culture of neoblasts from the cestode Echinococcus multilocularis. The isolated cells proved capable of generating mature metacestode vesicles under laboratory conditions in a manner that closely resembles the oncosphere-metacestode transition during natural infections. Using the established neoblast cultivation protocols, combined with targeted manipulation of Echinococcus genes by RNA-interference, several fundamental questions of host-dependent parasite development can now be addressed. Here, I give an overview of current cultivation techniques for E. multilocularis neoblasts and present experimental approaches to study their function. Furthermore, I introduce the E. multilocularis genome sequencing project that is presently in an advanced stage. The combined input of data from the E. multilocularis sequencing project, stem cell cultivation, and recently initiated attempts to genetically manipulate Echinococcus will provide an ideal platform for hypothesis-driven research into cestode development in the next years.

(Received August 04 2009)

(Revised October 27 2009)

(Accepted October 27 2009)

(Online publication December 07 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology, University of Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany. Tel: +49 931 201 46168. Fax: +49 931 201 46445. E-mail: