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MD Anderson researcher uncovers some of the ancient mysteries of leprosy
Date:2/20/2014

leprosy bacteria's pseudogenes suggest that gene inactivation began approximately 20 million years ago. This is likely the point when the ancestor of leprosy bacteria jumped to our early human ancestors and transitioned from free-living to strictly parasitic. In essence, the theory unifies the reductive evolution of the leprosy bacteria and their strict parasitic lifestyle in humans into a single continuous, long process.

Insights into the pathogenesis of leprosy

Han and Silva also brought human evolution, host genetic diversity, and host immunity into the complex picture of leprosy. Their hypothesis that leprosy existed for millions of years offers new insights into disease pathogenesis.

For example, the parasitic adaptation of the leprosy bacteria inside hominid-human hosts is similar to a very long hide-and-seek game. In this scenario, the parasite hides by mutating or removing harmful molecules while retaining protective ones. In the end, this leads to evasion from host immunity, a phenomenon commonly seen in leprosy. Finally, Han and Silva concluded that leprosy can be viewed as a natural consequence of a long parasitism.

Han, a clinical microbiologist, routinely diagnoses secondary infections caused by various kinds of microbes in patients with cancer. "Many patients who come to MD Anderson suspected of having cancer turn out to have infections instead and we make such game-changing diagnoses nearly every day" said Dr. Han.

"Discovering the new leprosy agent Mycobacterium lepromatosis was incidental. However, locating this additional leprosy cause significantly adds to our understanding of the ancient disease. In particular, tracing the ultimate origin of leprosy through the parasitic adaptive evolution of the leprosy bacteria is rather insightful, not only for this single disease but also for our better understanding of the mechanism behind other human infections. Medical historians and anthropologist
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Contact: Jim Newman
jnewman@mdanderson.org
713-792-0664
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert

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