Deadly parasite messaging tactic may help curb sleeping sickness

September 04, 2017

New insight into sleeping sickness suggests communication between parasites that cause infection could affect the severity and spread of the potentially fatal disease.

When two types of sleeping sickness parasite infect the same animal at the same time, signalling between the species appears to help them compete with - or manipulate - one another. This can make them more able to cause disease or spread to bring about further infections, scientists say.

This behaviour could impact on current and future incidences of disease, the findings suggest. A parasite species that is made more virulent by competitive signalling may, for example, then spread to cause severe disease.

The findings may offer a new pathway to tackling the disease, which is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. Sleeping sickness poses a major threat to human health in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and causes major livestock losses.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh studied two species of trypanosome parasites. Both can co-infect animals at once, and one of the species can infect humans.

Communication between the species - most likely by production of biochemical signals - may aid their survival by helping them to control their numbers. It may help optimise their ability to spread, without killing the infected animal on which they depend, scientists say.

The study also showed how that one type of parasite, Trypanosoma congolense, can not only arrest its own growth but can also compete with another type, T. brucei - which can infect humans - by restricting its growth, and aiding its transmission by flies.

This finding suggests that infection in humans caused by a sole parasite could be more severe if the parasite has previously been in competition with another species. Targeting parasite communication could offer a new way of limiting the spread of the disease in cattle, for which there are no vaccines, and may have implications for human health, scientists say.

The study, published in Nature Microbiology, was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Keith Matthews, of the School of Biological Sciences, said: "This discovery opens up possibilities for understanding real infections featuring mixtures of competing parasites and the effects on disease virulence and spread. Also, if we knew more about the signals being shared between the parasites, this might allow us to manipulate to these signals to trigger early growth arrest."

University of Edinburgh

Related Parasites Articles from Brightsurf:

When malaria parasites trick liver cells to let themselves in
A new study led by Maria Manuel Mota, group leader at Instituto de Medicina Molecular, now shows that malaria parasites secrete the protein EXP2 that is required for their entry into hepatocytes.

How deadly parasites 'glide' into human cells
A group of scientists led by EMBL Hamburg's Christian Löw provide insights into the molecular structure of proteins involved in the gliding movements through which the parasites causing malaria and toxoplasmosis invade human cells.

How malaria parasites withstand a fever's heat
The parasites that cause 200 million cases of malaria each year can withstand feverish temperatures that make their human hosts miserable.

New studies show how to save parasites and why it's important
An international group of scientists published a paper, Aug. 1, 2020, in a special edition of the journal Biological Conservation that lays out an ambitious global conservation plan for parasites.

More flowers and pollinator diversity could help protect bees from parasites
Having more flowers and maintaining diverse bee communities could help reduce the spread of bee parasites, according to a new study.

How Toxoplasma parasites glide so swiftly (video)
If you're a cat owner, you might have heard of Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan that sometimes infects humans through contact with contaminated feces in litterboxes.

Parasites and the microbiome
In a study of ethnically diverse people from Cameroon, the presence of a parasite infection was closely linked to the make-up of the gastrointestinal microbiome, according to a research team led by Penn scientists.

Clocking in with malaria parasites
Discovery of a malaria parasite's internal clock could lead to new treatment strategies.

Feeding bluebirds helps fend off parasites
If you feed the birds in your backyard, you may be doing more than just making sure they have a source of food: you may be helping baby birds give parasites the boot.

Scientists discover how malaria parasites import sugar
Researchers at Stockholm University has established how sugar is taken up by the malaria parasite, a discovery with the potential to improve the development of antimalarial drugs.

Read More: Parasites News and Parasites Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to