New molecular insight into amboebic dysentery

June 14, 2008

In the June 15th issue of G&D, Dr. Sinisa Urban (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and colleagues reveal a potential role for the rhomboid enzyme, EhROM1, in the pathogenesis of the enteric protozoan parasite, E. histolytica. This discovery posits EhROM1 as a prospective target in the treatment of amoebic dysentery, which affects 1/10th of the global population (~500 million people) and represents the second most common disease in the world.

"New drug targets are needed for amebiasis as current treatments have associated toxicities and drug resistance is a concern." said Dr. Upinder Singh, a clinician at Stanford University and co-author of the study.

E. histolytica is a single-celled intestinal parasite that infects the lower GI tract, causing amoebiasis, and can invade the intestinal wall and spread to the bloodstream, causing potentially fatal amoebic liver abscesses. The parasite is transmitted through fecally contaminated food or water, and is a major public health threat in the developing world.

Dr. Urban and colleagues uncovered new insight into the activity of E. histolytica's single rhomboid protease protein, EhROM1, which suggests that it helps the parasite evade the host's immune response. In order to escape immune detection, E. histolytica trophozoites concentrate immune system-eliciting surface proteins towards the rear of the cell and then expel them. Dr. Urban's team discovered that EhROM1 processes surface lectin proteins, and collaborators at Stanford University found that it re-localizes posteriorly during lectin shedding.

These findings suggest that EhROM1 facilitates lectin shedding and host immune system evasion by this pathogenic parasite. Dr. Urban is excited by the new findings, since "Enzymes have served as particularly successful drug targets in the past, so it's exciting to discover an ameba rhomboid enzyme with similar properties as a malaria rhomboid. We're hopeful that with additional work, we will be able to develop rhomboid inhibitors and evaluate if they could be applied as a more general anti-parasitic strategy in the future."
-end-


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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