Trypanosoma cruzi dysregulates the gene expression profile of primary human cardiomyocytes (PHCM) during the early phase of infection through a mechanism which remains to be elucidated. The role that small non-coding RNAs (sncRNA) including PIWI-interacting RNA (piRNA) play in regulating gene expression during the early phase of infection is unknown. To understand how T. cruzi dysregulate gene expression in the heart, we challenged PHCM with T. cruzi trypomastigotes and analyzed sncRNA, especially piRNA, by RNA-sequencing. The parasite induced significant differential expression of host piRNAs, which can target and regulate the genes which are important during the early infection phase. An average of 21,595,866 (88.40%) of clean reads mapped to the human reference genome. The parasite induced 217 unique piRNAs that were significantly differentially expressed (q ≥ 0.8). Of these differentially expressed piRNAs, 6 were known and 211 were novel piRNAs. In silico analysis showed that some of the dysregulated known and novel piRNAs could target and potentially regulate the expression of genes including NFATC2, FOS and TGF-β1, reported to play important roles during T. cruzi infection. Further evaluation of the specific functions of the piRNAs in the regulation of gene expression during the early phase of infection will enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanism of T. cruzi pathogenesis. Our novel findings constitute the first report that T. cruzi can induce differential expression of piRNAs in PHCM, advancing our knowledge about the involvement of piRNAs in an infectious disease model, which can be exploited for biomarker and therapeutic development.
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