St. Louis, Jan. 9, 2007 One of the most common human parasites, Toxoplasma gondii, uses a hormone lifted from the plant world to decide when to increase its numbers and when to remain dormant, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found.
The scientists report this week in Nature that they successfully blocked production of the molecule, known as abscisic acid (ABA), with a plant herbicide. Low doses of the herbicide prevented fatal T. gondii infection in mice.
"As a target for drug development, this pathway is very attractive for several reasons," says author L. David Sibley, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology. "For example, because of its many roles in plant biology, we already have several inhibitors for it. Also, the plant-like nature of the target decreases the chances that blocking it with a drug will have significant negative side effects in human patients."
T. gondii's relatives include the parasites that cause malaria, which also appear to have genes for ABA synthesis. The new findings may explain an earlier study where a group of researchers found that the same herbicide inhibits malaria.
Infection with T. gondii, or toxoplasmosis, is perhaps most familiar to the general public from the recommendation that pregnant women avoid changing cat litter. Cats are commonly infected with the parasite, as are some livestock and wildlife. Humans can also become infected by eating undercooked meat or by drinking water contaminated with spores shed by cats.
Epidemiologists estimate that as many as one in every four humans is infected with T. gondii. Infections are typically asymptomatic, only causing serious disease in patients with weakened immune systems. In some rare cases, though, infection in patients with healthy immune systems leads to serious eye or central nervous system disease, or congenital defects in the fetuses of pregnant women.
Scientists have known f
|Contact: Michael C. Purdy|
Washington University School of Medicine