China's schistosomiasis finding27th July 2007
Researchers in China say they have found a set of proteins which could provide a useful target for future drugs to fight schistosomiasis.
The scientists published their findings in the Chinese Science Bulletin. Their work builds on previous mapping of all the key schistosome proteins.
Team leader Yu Fudong of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Science said it was previously known that this group of proteins, known as the EF-hand proteins, could stimulate an unfavourable immune response in the host.
But he said exactly how they did this was not known until now.
Researchers used bioinformatics to compare detailed structural information of the EF-hand proteins and related host proteins with a database library of known proteins.
They used structural analogies to piece together the role played by the EF-hand proteins in schistosomiasis infection.
Some of the EF-hand proteins could block "messenger" cells of the immune system from surrounding the parasite, thereby preventing the immune system from detecting their presence.
They could also mute any immune response mounted by the host, weakening the ability of immune cells to kill the invading parasite.
The EF-hand group also showed chameleon properties, adding sugars to themselves to disguise their identity from the immune system.
But the group's differences made them an easy target for future drug development, Yu said.
Their genetic stability meant they would also be a good target for future vaccines, he added.
Schistosomiasis — caused by parasitic Schistosoma worms — is found in Africa, Asia and South America. People can carry Schistosoma worms without symptoms, but in severe cases fever, fatigue, enlargement of the spleen and liver and central nervous system problems can occur.
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