Unsaturated glycerophospholipids mediate heme crystallization: biological implications for hemozoin formation in the kissing bug Rhodnius prolixus

Hemozoin (Hz) is a heme crystal produced by some blood-feeding organisms, as an efficient way to detoxify heme derived from hemoglobin digestion. In the triatomine insect Rhodnius prolixus , Hz is essentially produced by midgut extracellular phospholipid membranes known as perimicrovillar membranes (PMVM). Here, we investigated the role of commercial glycerophospholipids containing serine, choline and ethanolamine as headgroups and R. prolixus midgut lipids (RML) in heme crystallization. All commercial unsaturated forms of phospholipids, as well as RML, mediated fast and efficient β-hematin formation by means of two kinetically distinct mechanisms: an early and fast component, followed by a late and slow one. The fastest reactions observed were induced by unsaturated forms of phosphatidylethanolamine (uPE) and phosphatidylcholine (uPC), with half-lives of 0.04 and 0.7 minutes, respectively. β-hematin crystal morphologies were strikingly distinct among groups, with uPE producing homogeneous regular brick-shaped crystals. Interestingly, uPC-mediated reactions resulted in two morphologically distinct crystal populations: one less representative group of regular crystals, resembling those induced by uPE, and the other largely represented by crystals with numerous sharp edges and tapered ends. Heme crystallization reactions induced by RML were efficient, with a heme to β-hematin conversion rate higher than 70%, but clearly slower (t1/2 of 9.9-17.7 minutes) than those induced by uPC and uPE. Interestingly, crystals produced by RML were homogeneous in shape and quite similar to those mediated by uPE. Thus, β-hematin formation can be rapidly and efficiently induced by unsaturated glycerophospholipids, particularly uPE and uPC, and may play a role on biological heme crystallization in R. prolixus midgut.