Emory study of syphilis bacteria yields valuable diagnostic tool

Jun 13, 2008

Variations in a gene within the family of bacteria that causes syphilis may hold clinical, epidemiological and evolutionary significance, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have found.

The researchers' study results describe how sequence variations they identified in the acidic repeat protein (ARP) gene allow straightforward differentiation of venereal syphilis from non-venereal Treponema pallidum subspecies. The study was published online in the journal FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology June 12 (www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1574-695X.2008.00427.x>).

"This finding can lead to improved diagnoses of cases, enabling doctors to prescribe the right treatment, and public health workers to determine the best prevention strategies," says Kristin Harper, who led the research team as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute pre-doctoral fellow in EmoryÕs Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution program.

The family of Treponema bacteria causes venereal syphilis and the non-venereal diseases of yaws and bejel, which are transmitted through skin-to-skin or oral contact. Public health workers in parts of Africa have reported difficulty in distinguishing yaws from syphilis in children, leaving open the question of whether the child may have contracted a venereal disease Ð either congenitally or through sexual abuse.

"As yaws eradication efforts near their goal, and case diagnosis becomes more difficult due to the relative rarity of yaws, a molecular means of determining whether the infection is venereal or non-venereal becomes essential," Harper says.

The analysis of the repeat region of the ARP gene in 32 strains of pathogenic Treponema showed that the sexually transmitted strains contained multiple types of repeat motifs, while the non-venereal subspecies contained only one type of motif.

In addition, the researchers found the presence of multiple, but distinct, repeat motifs in the two types of sexually transmitted Treponema examined, suggesting that a diverse repertoire of repeat motifs has evolved at least two times in association with sexual transmission.

"The kind of changes we found in the ARP gene are consistent with rapid evolution," Harper said. "This scenario lends further support to several prominent theories about the origin of syphilis, including that the pathogen arose with the return of Columbus from the New World."

Source: Emory University

Explore further: Study identifies new way to kill the malaria parasite

Related Stories

Former federal agent pleads guilty to stealing bitcoins

6 hours ago

A former undercover federal agent pleaded guilty to extortion and related charges after acknowledging he channeled more than $700,000 in digital currency from the Silk Road online drug bazaar he was investigating.

Cities, regions, demand bigger climate say

7 hours ago

Leaders of city and regional governments gathered Wednesday in the French city of Lyon, in the grips of a western European heatwave, to demand a bigger stake in the global push to curb global warming.

Hewlett-Packard moves forward with plan to split in two

7 hours ago

Hewlett-Packard is moving forward with plans to split into two companies, filing paperwork to create a new entity that will sell commercial technology, while a separate spinoff will sell personal computers and printers.

Recommended for you

Researchers learn to measure aging process in young adults

17 hours ago

Looking around at a 20th high school reunion, you might notice something puzzling about your classmates. Although they were all born within months of each other, these 38-year-olds appear to be aging at different ...

New paradigm for treating 'inflammaging' and cancer

21 hours ago

Intermittent dosing with rapamycin selectively breaks the cascade of inflammatory events that follow cellular senescence, a phenomena in which cells cease to divide in response to DNA damaging agents, including ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.