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

New hope for cystic fibrosis

October 19, 2018
A new triple-combination drug treatment being trialled at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane could increase the life expectancy of patients with cystic fibrosis.

Bug guts shed light on Central America Chagas disease

October 18, 2018
In Central America, Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is spread by the "kissing bug" Triatoma dimidiata. By collecting DNA from the guts of these bugs, researchers reporting in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases ...

Rapid genomic sequencing of Lassa virus in Nigeria enabled real-time response to 2018 outbreak

October 18, 2018
Mounting a collaborative, real-time response to a Lassa fever outbreak in early 2018, doctors and scientists in Nigeria teamed up with researchers at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and colleagues to rapidly sequence the ...

Researchers cure drug-resistant infections without antibiotics

October 17, 2018
Biochemists, microbiologists, drug discovery experts and infectious disease doctors have teamed up in a new study that shows antibiotics are not always necessary to cure sepsis in mice. Instead of killing causative bacteria ...

Infectious disease consultation significantly reduces mortality of patients with bloodstream yeast infections

October 17, 2018
In a retrospective cohort study conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases, patients with candidemia—a yeast infection in the bloodstream—had more positive outcomes as they relate ...

How drug resistant TB evolved and spread globally

October 17, 2018
The most common form of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) originated in Europe and spread to Asia, Africa and the Americas with European explorers and colonialists, reveals a new study led by UCL and the Norwegian Institute ...

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.