News from the pathogen that causes sleeping sickness

June 22, 2017, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Trypanosomes are worm-like parasites which cause sleeping sickness. Credit: Tim Krüger und Markus Engstler

The life-threatening African trypanosomiasis, also called sleeping sickness, is caused by protozoa of the species Trypanosoma brucei. A team at the Biocentre of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, studies the pathogens and has now reported exciting news: The trypanosomes have a so far unknown enzyme which does not exist in humans and other vertebrates. This makes it a promising target for therapy.

Dr. Susanne Kramer and her team published the new findings in the journal PLOS Pathogens. "The is called TbALPH1," the researcher details. "It triggers the degradation of messenger RNA and is totally different from the enzymes responsible for this process in higher organisms."

The JMU researcher counts the Trypanosoma enzyme among the class of ApaH-like phosphatases which are of bacterial origin. Although this class of enzymes does not exist in vertebrates, it is found in other groups of animals. "We don't know yet which function the enzymes have there. So we want to study next whether ApaH-like phosphatases from other organisms are equally involved in degrading the messenger RNA," Kramer says.

Facts about sleeping sickness

Trypanosomes are wide-spread in sub-Saharan Africa. The worm-like parasites are transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly. Each year, there are 30,000 new infections. Initial symptoms include headaches and joint pains followed by confusion, seizures and other symptoms in later stages. Finally, the sufferers fall into coma and die.

There are no vaccines available against the pathogens; the available drugs can have extreme side effects. So there is urgent demand for better medication to treat the disease. Trypanosomes not only infect humans. They also kill cattle, goats and other livestock thereby causing additional damage: In some regions of Africa, breeding livestock is hardly possible due to the .

Explore further: How dangerous liaisons between human and animal parasites generate new strains of disease

More information: Susanne Kramer et al. The ApaH-like phosphatase TbALPH1 is the major mRNA decapping enzyme of trypanosomes, PLOS Pathogens (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006456

Related Stories

How dangerous liaisons between human and animal parasites generate new strains of disease

May 14, 2015
New strains of the human pathogen responsible for African sleeping sickness can arise by swapping genes between human and animal variants of the parasite, new research from the University of Bristol has found.

How some trypanosomes cause sleeping sickness while others don't

May 15, 2014
Trypanosome parasites transmitted by tsetse flies cause devastating diseases in humans and livestock. Different subspecies infect different hosts: Trypanosoma brucei brucei infects cattle but is non-infectious to humans, ...

Trypanosomes and renal insufficiency

August 27, 2015
The African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei is a blood parasite capable of infecting many mammals. Humans are provided with natural immunity against infection through the activity of the protein apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1): ...

Recommended for you

Tibetan sheep highly susceptible to human plague, originates from marmots

August 16, 2018
In the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, one of the region's highest risk areas for human plague, Himalayan marmots are the primary carriers of the infectious bacterium Y. pestis. Y. pestis infection can be transmitted to humans and ...

Autoimmunity plays role in development of COPD, study finds

August 16, 2018
Autoimmunity plays a role in the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a study led by Georgia State University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center that analyzed human genome information ...

Reliable point-of-care blood test can help prevent toxoplasmosis

August 16, 2018
A recent study, performed in Chicago and Rabat, Morocco, found that a novel finger-prick test for infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy—and many other potential applications—is 100 percent sensitive ...

Scientists identify nearly 200 potential tuberculosis drug targets

August 16, 2018
Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Nearly 2 million people die every year from this infectious disease, and an estimated 2 billion people are chronically infected. The only vaccine, developed almost ...

First mouse model to mimic lung disease could speed discovery of more effective treatments

August 16, 2018
The biggest hurdle to finding effective therapies for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) – a life-threatening condition in which the lungs become scarred and breathing is increasingly difficult – has been the inability ...

Anticancer drug offers potential alternative to transplant for patients with liver failure

August 15, 2018
Patients suffering sudden liver failure could in the future benefit from a new treatment that could reduce the need for transplants, research published today shows.

0 comments

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.