THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Newly identified protein could help fight malaria

A newly identified protein and the proteins it interacts with could become new drug targets to control parasites that cause toxoplasmosis and malaria, according to research recently published in PLoS Pathogens.

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine determined that GCN5b, an enzyme, is necessary for the Toxoplasma parasite to replicate. By interfering with the enzyme's activities, drug candidates could control the parasite and reduce infection. The researchers also found that GCN5b works with other proteins to turn genes on and off in the parasite, which could give scientists multiple targets for parasitic treatments.

"GCN5b is a very different protein than its human counterpart, and proteins it interacts with are not found in humans," William J. Sullivan Jr., an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the university, said. "That's what makes this exciting - rather than just having one enzyme that we could go after, there could be a whole collection of associated enzyme components that could be potentially targeted for drug therapies to control this parasite."

The researchers found that when they disabled the GCN5b complex, parasite replication quickly stopped.

An estimated 60 million people in the U.S. are infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite, which causes flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all in most cases. The disease can cause serious effects in immune-compromised patients, such as individuals undergoing chemotherapy or those infected with HIV.

The Toxoplasma parasite is often used as a model organism for Plasmodium, the malaria parasite. As a result, new treatments for toxoplasmosis could result in new treatments for malaria.

Sullivan noted that the malaria parasite also contains a GCN5 enzyme.