Comparative transcriptomics in Leishmania braziliensis: disclosing differential gene expression of coding and putative noncoding RNAs across developmental stages

Leishmaniasis is a worldwide public health problem caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania. Leishmania braziliensis is the most important species responsible for tegumentary leishmaniases in Brazil. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the success of this parasite is urgently needed. An in-depth study on the modulation of gene expression across the life cycle stages of L. braziliensis covering coding and noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) was missing and is presented herein. Analyses of differentially expressed (DE) genes revealed that most prominent differences were observed between the transcriptomes of insect and mammalian proliferative forms (6,576 genes). Gene ontology (GO) analysis indicated stage-specific enriched biological processes. A computational pipeline and 5 ncRNA predictors allowed the identification of 11,372 putative ncRNAs. Most of the DE ncRNAs were found between the transcriptomes of insect and mammalian proliferative stages (38%). Of the DE ncRNAs, 295 were DE in all three stages and displayed a wide range of lengths, chromosomal distributions and locations; many of them had a distinct expression profile compared to that of their protein-coding neighbors. Thirty-five putative ncRNAs were submitted to northern blotting analysis, and one or more hybridization-positive signals were observed in 22 of these ncRNAs. This work presents an overview of the L. braziliensis transcriptome and its adjustments throughout development. In addition to determining the general features of the transcriptome at each life stage and the profile of protein-coding transcripts, we identified and characterized a variety of noncoding transcripts. The novel putative ncRNAs uncovered in L. braziliensis might be regulatory elements to be further investigated.