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Malaria parasite zeroes in on molecule to enhance its survival, team finds
Date:2/19/2009

electrical charge.

The researchers were interested in seeing how the concentrations of metabolites in parasite-infected human red blood cells change over a single 48-hour "generation" of parasite growth. Scanning the data, the scientists noted that arginine levels dramatically dipped by the end of one 48-hour cycle.

"The parasite destroys this amino acid specifically and preferentially over all other amino acids," Olszewski said.

Follow-up experiments showed that the parasite doesn't break down arginine in order to grow, suggesting that this process serves some secondary function that helps P. falciparum proliferate within the human body. Arginine is an essential fuel for the human body's immune system, which uses it to produce a molecule called nitric oxide that is highly toxic to foreign organisms. The parasite-led attack on arginine may be an attempt by the parasite to "switch off" a human immune function that might threaten its survival, the researchers said.

Scientists are interested in studying the metabolism of P. falciparum to understand how organisms adapt to a parasitic lifestyle. Understanding this is important because many of the drugs used to treat malaria successfully in the past have targeted some aspect of the parasite's metabolism.

"Designing the next generation of anti-malarial drugs will likely require a detailed knowledge of the 'weak points' in the parasite's metabolic network," Llins said.

According to the World Health Organization, some 350 to 500 million people are infected with malaria every year by mosquitos carrying one of the four human malaria parasites, P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae or P. ovale. The P. falciparum infections are by far the most deadly, killing more than 1 million people each year, mainly young children and pregnant women. The disease, which can incapacitate a victim for several weeks, also imposes a massive so
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Contact: Kitta MacPherson
kittamac@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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