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Laying sleeping sickness to rest

The parasite that leads to sleeping sickness can be lulled to sleep itself using a newly discovered pathway, according to research published online this week in EMBO reports. Trypanosoma brucei is a parasite that causes sleeping sickness resulting in neurological damage and death.

Shulamit Michaeli and colleagues describe a pathway in T. brucei parasites that they named SLS (SL-RNA silencing). Triggering this pathway shuts down the synthesis of a crucial RNA molecule, which halts the production of messenger RNAs and leads to the parasite’s death.

Inducing SLS could therefore be a novel way to eradicate parasites and prevent sleeping sickness - trypanosomiasis. The researchers also believe this could have implications for related parasites and diseases, such as Leishmania and leishmaniasis and Trypanosoma cruzi and Chagas disease.

Sleeping sickness affects humans and livestock, and is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa where it is estimated to affect as many as 70,000 people. Leishmaniasis is estimated to affect millions of individuals throughout the world, and can lead to skin lesions, tissue damage, fever, blindness and death.

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Chagas disease affects 16-18 million people across the Americas, and can cause intestinal complications, neurological disorders, heart damage and death. Although drugs are available to treat these diseases, their use is hampered by toxicity and undesirable side effects, difficulties in administering treatment, an increase in drug resistance, and high costs.

Shulamit Michaeli | alfa
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