More than a million people die each year of malaria caused by different strains of the Plasmodium parasite transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. The medical world has yet to find an effective vaccine against the deadly parasite, which mainly affects pregnant women and children under the age of five. By figuring out how the most dangerous strain evades the watchful eye of the immune system, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have now paved the way for the development of new approaches to cure this acute infection.
Upon entering the bloodstream, the Plasmodium parasite reproduces in the red blood cells and transports its proteins to their surface. These cells become sticky and cling to the walls of blood vessels, blocking them and damaging the human body. The immune system typically identifies these proteins as foreign and creates antibodies to fight the disease.
The deadliest of the five Plasmodium strains is Plasmodium falciparum, which causes more than 90% of deaths associated with malaria. This sophisticated strain deceives the immune system by revealing only one protein encoded by one of the sixty genes at its disposal. While the immune system is busy fighting that protein, the parasite switches to another protein not recognized by the immune system, thus avoiding the antibody response and re-establishing infection.
In research conducted at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, and the Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Dr. Ron Dzikowski and research student Inbar Avraham revealed for the first time the genetic mechanism that enables a parasite to selectively express one protein while hiding other proteins from the immune system.
By combining bioinformatic and genetic methods, the researchers identified a unique DNA sequence found in the regulatory regions of the gene family that encode for these surface proteins. They showed that the parasite's ability to express only one gene while hiding the other 59 depends on this sequence. The research suggests that by interfering with the regulatory role of this DNA sequence it would be possible to prevent Plasmodium falciparum from hiding most of its destructive genes from the immune system.
According to Dr. Dzikowski, "These results are a major breakthrough in understanding the parasite's ability to cause damage. This understanding could lead to strategies for disrupting this ability and giving the immune system an opportunity to clear the infection and overcome the disease. This clever parasite knows how to switch masks to evade an immune attack, but our discovery could lead to new ways to prevent it from continuing this dangerous game."
The research, "Insulator-like pairing elements regulate silencing and mutually exclusive expression in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum," was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was funded by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Einstein Kaye Fellowships, which supports outstanding research students.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: http://www.huji.ac.il
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Flu cases across the US can be accurately estimated using Wikipedia searches, and fluey tweets from Twitter users also give the game away
Workers who have a creative outlet outside the office are more likely to be creative problem solvers on the job, a study suggests. Oh, and they have more fun.
Scientists to grow a crop of camelina plants genetically modified to produce fish oils that could be used in health supplements Continue reading...
Kent Kiehl has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years. More recently he's acquired a mobile MRI scanner and permission to scan the brains of New Mexico state prison inmates. He talked with WIRED about what's different in the brains of psychopaths and why he views psychopathy as a preventable mental disorder.
In Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare, evolutionary psychology pioneer Gordon H. Orians traces the roots of today's human quirks in the minds of our ancestors
The World Health Organization says an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has been linked to the deaths of more than 120 people. As of Monday, the organization recorded a total of 200 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, which is normally found in central or eastern Africa, in…
To see if low blood sugar sours even good relationships, scientists used an unusual tool: voodoo dolls representing spouses. As hunger levels rose, so did the number of pins.
A Beijing artist who collected a jar of air from Provence, France, sold it at auction "to question China's foul air and express dissatisfaction."
With purported activity against cardiac disease, cancer and even ageing, the pressure on resveratrol to deliver is enormous
Health workers responding to an Ebola outbreak in Guinea had no maps to go on, so they turned to the internet for help