Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How disease-causing parasite gets around human innate immunity

Date:
September 13, 2010
Source:
University of Georgia
Summary:
A team of researchers has now shown, for the first time, how one species of the parasites that cause African sleeping sickness evades the human innate defenses.

This Giemsa-stained light photomicrograph revealed the presence of two Trypanosoma brucei parasites, which were found in a blood smear.
Credit: CDC/Blaine Mathison

Trypanosomes are parasites responsible for many human and animal diseases, primarily in tropical climates. One disease these parasites cause, African sleeping sickness, results from the bite of infected tsetse flies, putting over 60 million Africans at risk in 36 sub-Saharan countries. The recent 1998-2001 sleeping sickness epidemics in South Sudan, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda killed tens of thousands of people and resulted in over a half million infected individuals.

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia and Glasgow University has now shown, for the first time, just how one species of these parasites evades the human innate defenses. The finding could open the way for new classes of drugs and more in-depth studies about how parasites manage to kill so many and cost governments billions of dollars to fight.

"We believe this research represents a paradigm shift and causes us to think more broadly about how pathogens avoid host defense mechanisms," said Stephen Hajduk, professor and head of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at UGA and one of the leaders of the research. "It turns out that African trypanosomes have evolved a diversity of ways to avoid human innate and acquired immune systems."

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was a joint effort between UGA and a group led by Annette Macleod at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Other authors of the paper include Rudo Kieft, a research professional in Hajduk's lab at UGA; Paul Capewell and Nicola Veitch in the Macleod lab in Wellcome Center for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow; and Michael Turner of the Biomedical Research Center at the University of Glasgow. The department of biochemistry and molecular biology at UGA is part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Hajduk also is a member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases at UGA.

The need for a clearer understanding of how these parasites evade human immune systems is at the heart of a serious public health problem, Hajduk said. During the recent epidemics of African sleeping sickness, as many as half the occupants in some African villages were infected with trypanosomes. The geographical isolation of these villages and ongoing civil wars contributed to what many believe were the worst epidemics of sleeping sickness in five decades.

This led to the realization that many of the existing therapies now available to fight African sleeping sickness are often ineffective and have extreme toxicity, frequently causing death. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that while new therapeutics may cure the disease, long-lasting neurological damage can be caused by infection.

The World Health Organization reports that the recent introduction of aggressive population screening in rural areas and distribution of more effective drugs has dramatically reduced the number of deaths, however.

Several species of African trypanosomes infect non-primate mammals and cause important veterinary disease yet are unable to infect humans. The trypanosomes that cause human disease, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and T. b. rhodensiense, have evolved mechanisms to avoid the native human defense molecules in the circulatory system that kill the parasites that cause animal disease.

Two of the major challenges faced by scientists studying human sleeping sickness have been the identification of the naturally occurring human defense molecules that are active against the trypanosomes causing animal disease, and the identification of the strategies used by the human sleeping sickness parasites to avoid the action of these molecules.

Human innate immunity against most African trypanosomes is mediated by a subclass of HDL (high density lipoprotein, which people know from blood tests as "good cholesterol") called trypanosome lytic factor-1, or TLF-1. This minor subclass of human HDL further contains two proteins, apolipoprotein L-1 and haptoglobin-related protein, which are only found in primates. These proteins work together, in the lipid environment of the HDL particle, as a specific and highly active toxin against the trypanosomes that infect non-primate mammals. Despite its activity against some African trypanosomes, the toxin is completely nontoxic to the human sleeping sickness parasites.

The parasite that causes fast-onset, acute sleeping sickness in humans, T. b. rhodensiense, is able to cause disease because it has evolved an inhibitor of TLF-1 called Serum Resistance Associated (SRA) protein. Another species, T. b. gambiense, causes slow onset, chronic sleeping sickness and is responsible for over 95 percent of the human deaths caused by these parasites. Until the just-published research by Hajduk, Macleod and their colleagues, nothing was known about TLF-1 resistance in T. b. gambiense. Hajduk and Macleod report, for the first time, that T. b. gambiense resistance to TLF-1 is caused by a marked reduction of TLF-1 uptake by the parasite.

So how is this happening?

To survive in the bloodstream of humans, these parasites have apparently evolved mutations in the gene encoding a surface protein receptor. These mutations result in a receptor with decreased TLF-1 binding, leading to reduced uptake and thus allow the parasites to avoid the toxicity of TLF-1.

"Humans have evolved TLF-1 as a highly specific toxin against African trypanosomes by tricking the parasite into taking up this HDL because it resembles a nutrient the parasite needs for survival," said Hajduk, "but T. b. gambiense has evolved a counter measure to these human 'Trojan horses' simply by barring the door and not allowing TLF-1 to enter the cell, effectively blocking human innate immunity and leading to infection and ultimately disease."

The parasite may pay a price for blocking the uptake of a nutrient, but still the strategy works and the parasite can infect humans. Now that researchers know how the parasite survives, this may provide an intervention target that could keep the parasites from evading the human defense system. The result could be a newly strengthened innate defense system that halts the parasites in their paths.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Georgia. The original article was written by Philip Lee Williams. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Georgia. "How disease-causing parasite gets around human innate immunity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100830152538.htm>.
University of Georgia. (2010, September 13). How disease-causing parasite gets around human innate immunity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100830152538.htm
University of Georgia. "How disease-causing parasite gets around human innate immunity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100830152538.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins