Immunology

How Malarial Parasites Outrun Human Immune Cells to Cause Malaria

Malarial Parasite is able to cause malaria because it is three times faster than the immune cells which fail to capture the parasite due to their less speed as compared to the parasite.

A team of researchers from the University of Heidelberg has found how malarial parasites move faster than their enemy i.e. immune cells.

The focus of the study was a protein called actin which is a multifunctional protein and its pivotal role in cell movements. These actin polymers which assembles into filament helps our immune system to move and capture the pathogen. In the same manner, they are of great importance for the malarial parasite movement.

“Strangely enough, malaria parasites are ten times nimbler than the fastest of our immune cells and literally outrun our immune defenses. If we understand this important difference in movement, we can target and stop the parasite,” says Dr. Ross Douglas from the Heidelberg Centre for Infectious Diseases.

A key issue in the paper published in the journal PLOS Biology is how the rate at which actin filaments are formed and broken down differs between parasites and mammals.

During their study, researchers found that actin present in parasite is different from mammals at certain section. To explore this difference, researchers replaced the corresponding section of the malarial parasite with mammalian actin. They observed that some parasites were not able to survive while other were moving with hesitation.

To understand the mechanism, they did the modeling at the molecular level to observe the behavior of the parasite in live animals.

“High-performance computers were required for simulations to observe how the structure and dynamics of actin filaments change when individual sections are swapped,” says Prof. Rebecca Wade, who heads research groups at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and at the Centre for Molecular Biology (ZMBH) at Heidelberg University that investigate protein interactions via computer simulations and mathematical modelling.

Scientist concluded that if actin of parasite can be targeted using chemical compounds it can stop the entire parasite. Hence next step is to discover chemical compound which can affect either building or breakdown of an actin filament.

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