Intestinal absorption of heme has remained enigmatic for years, even though heme provides the most bioavailable form of iron. The salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, is a heme auxotrophic ectoparasite feeding on large quantities of blood from its host, the salmon. Here we show that a scavenging CD36-like receptor is a potential mediator of heme absorption in the intestine of the salmon louse. The receptor was characterized by a heme binding assay using recombinantly expressed protein, in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, as well as functional knockdown studies in the louse. A computational structural model of the receptor predicted a binding pocket for heme, as also supported by in silico docking. The mRNA and protein were expressed exclusively in the intestine of the louse. Further, knocking down the transcript resulted in lower heme levels in the adult female louse, production of shorter egg strings, and an overall lower hatching success of the eggs. Finally, starving the lice caused the transcript expression of the receptor to decrease. To our knowledge, this is the first time a CD36-like protein has been suggested to be an intestinal heme receptor.
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