Scientists affiliated with the Indiana University of Medicine have just uncovered some new data about how an extremely dangerous parasite is able to effectively take control of the cells of a patient, then spread through the entire body. This is a very important study, as it could lead to the development of new drugs that could treat the infection.
The Scientific Community’s View
Leonardo Augusto, PhD, a postdoc in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, who is also the lead author of the study that was funded by the National Institute of Health, which was published a few days ago in mBio, gave a statement regarding the research. He explained that the parasite hijacks these cells and they are used as vehicles for the parasite to get to different organ systems, such as the brain. It is as if the parasite took the wheel of the host cell, using it to spread itself all around the body of the patient.
The Scale of Infection
The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, usually infects almost one-third of the world’s human population. Normally, people get it after they are exposed to cat feces, which is the medium of reproduction for the parasite. In some patients, the parasite can lead to life-threatening issues due to its ability to completely disseminate the brain. In some tissues, such as the brain, the parasite can persist as a late-stage cyst, but it can reactivate itself if the immunity of the patient drops, as is the case in those infected with HIV, for example.
Perhaps the biggest problem when fighting an infection like Toxoplasma is stopping it from spreading to other parts of the body, according to Augusto. After the parasite enters the body, it can go to immune cells and make them move. This behavior is known as hypermigratory activity. For now, we do not know how parasites cause infected cells to migrate.