Potential chink in armor of African sleeping sickness parasite: It's social

Dec 13, 2010

Long considered a freewheeling loner, the Trypanosoma brucei parasite responsible for African sleeping sickness has revealed a totally unexpected social side, opening a potential chink in the behavioral armor of this and other supposedly solitary human parasites, according to research presented at the American Society for Cell Biology's 50th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

"The concept of bacteria acting as groups of cells communicating and cooperating with one another has had a major impact on our understanding of bacterial physiology and pathogenesis, but this paradigm has not been applied to parasitic protozoa," said Kent Hill, Ph.D., of University of California, Los Angeles, who presented the findings. "Social motility offers many potential advantages, such as facilitating colonization and navigation through host tissues."

The unexpected discovery that at the right time and on the right surface, T. brucei are extremely social reveals "a level of complexity and cooperatively to trypanosome behavior that was not previously recognized," said Hill.

It also suggests a whole repertoire of behavior for other "loner" parasites that are responsible for malaria and epidemic diarrhea.

These supposedly solitary protozoa were better known for their propeller-like flagella and for cycling between tsetse fly and human hosts. But seeded onto a semisolid surface, T. brucei during their tsetse fly stage collect into large multi-cellular communities whose members sense their environment, exchange messages, and coordinate their movements in response to external signals.

T. brucei's flagellum provided the clue about the parasite's social behavior, said Hill. While examining the proteins exposed on the outside of the trypanosome flagellum, he and his colleagues identified a family of surface-exposed receptors and downstream signaling cascades involved in cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) intracellular signal transduction.

Using genetics to block and drugs to block protein activity, the researchers found that their flagella possessed sensing and signaling systems that equipped trypanosomes for social behavior.

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

Provided by American Society for Cell Biology

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fly gut bacteria could control sleeping sickness

May 11, 2010

A new bacterial species, found in the gut of the fly that transmits African sleeping sickness, could be engineered to kill the parasite that causes the disease. The study, published in the International Journal of Systematic an ...

Sequence is scaffold to study sleeping sickness

Apr 13, 2010

Researchers have made a further step toward understanding sleeping sickness - a chronic disease caused by Trypanosoma parasites, which affect the human central nervous system. The team have generated a high-quality draft ...

Sleeping sickness finding could lead to earlier diagnosis

Apr 14, 2008

Sleeping sickness creates a metabolic 'fingerprint' in the blood and urine, which could enable a new test to be developed to diagnose the disease, according to new research published today in the journal Proceedings of th ...

Revealing secrets of 'African sleeping sickness'

Oct 27, 2008

Scientists in the United Kingdom and Russia are reporting identification of a long-sought chink in the armor of the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease that kills at least 50,000 people each ...

Loosely coiled DNA helps trypanosomes make their escape

Jan 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- To escape the grip of the human immune system, Trypanosoma brucei, which causes African sleeping sickness, performs its acclaimed disappearing act. Every time the host’s immune cells get close to eliminating ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...