Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for the most severe forms of human malaria. Invasion of host red blood cells is an essential step of the complex life cycle of this parasite. During the process of invasion, P. falciparum, which appears in the stage of a “merozoite”, is exposed to antibodies from the immune system. Consequently, the proteins of the merozoite that interact with red blood cells are a possible weak point, and thus a very clear target to develop vaccines.
Alfred Cortés, an ICREA researcher working at IRB Barcelona and an expert in molecular parasitology, together with researchers from the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in London, have discovered that the parasite has the ability to switch on and off the expression of some of the proteins it uses to enter its victim’s red blood cells. The researchers believe that this ability makes the parasite more adaptable when attempting to invade the cells. The study is published in Friday’s issue of Plos Pathogens, the scientific journal with the greatest impact on the field of Parasitology.
30 genes are know to be involved in the process of invasion. Now, the scientists have found that P. falciparum can activate and deactivate the expression of 7 of these genes (and their corresponding proteins) without compromising the parasite’s ability to enter normal or modified red blood cells. According to Cortés, this suggests that the varied expression of these genes may help the parasite to escape the host organism’s immune responses, although the researcher points out that this is yet to be confirmed.
The researchers discovered that the silencing mechanism happens at the epigenetic level, meaning that the parasite stops expressing a certain gene without changing the underlying genetic information, and that the mechanism is flexible, adaptable and easily reversible. This means that the parasite can re-express the proteins relatively easily when infecting another individual or silence them again in a different host, explains Cortés. “We are talking about a very sophisticated adaptation system to the host and our challenge is to find out how this mechanism works at molecular level; that is, we need to figure out which specific epigenetic modifications are associated to activity or to silencing”. Another immediate objective is to find out how many of the 30 genes involved in the invasion of red blood cells are active or inactive in parasites found in nature. “Thanks to this study we have been able to identify 7 genes in 4 different genetic families that may be silenced in a specific P. falciparum strain; we suspect, however, that other genes may also be silenced, and we’ll follow this up with studies on wild strains of the parasite”, concludes Cortés.
The scientist, who leads a research line in molecular parasitology in the Genetic Translation Laboratory at IRB Barcelona, emphasises that this study has also revealed that none of these proteins acting on its own would be a suitable candidate to develop a vaccine because the parasite will still succeed in invading the red blood cell to continue its life cycle”. Researchers like Alfred Cortés believe that more insight into the biology of this parasite will allow us to design vaccines with a high likelihood of success.
Sònia Armengou | alfa
Navigational view of the brain thanks to powerful X-rays
18.10.2017 | Georgia Institute of Technology
Separating methane and CO2 will become more efficient
18.10.2017 | KU Leuven
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
18.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy