Washington DC: In a recent study, researchers have discovered how parasites, which cause sleeping sickness, initiate a physical change in order to spread the disease.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed a decade-long puzzle about the behaviour of the parasites spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. They found that the parasites release enzymes, called peptidases, which break down proteins in the blood into smaller molecules, causing sleeping sickness in people and animals.
The findings of the study are published in the journal 'Cell'.
Pinpointing at the details of the signal that enables parasites to quickly boost their numbers, scientists said that these small molecules, known as oligopeptides, are sensed by a protein, called GPR89. It is found on the surface of the parasite. This triggers the parasites' transition into a state in which they can be taken up and transmitted by flies.
Oligopeptides, a peptide, also acts as a nutrient for the parasites and are taken up by the same surface protein.
"Understanding how these parasites communicate with each other has been a mystery for decades. The mechanism we have discovered provides new opportunities to develop much-needed drugs for this devastating disease," said Keith Matthews, lead researcher of the study.
The team suggested that disrupting this process by designing drugs that interfere with the GPR89 protein could offer a new way of tackling the disease and this approach could limit drug resistance.
Researchers also suggested that the parasites can be disarmed by an artificial form of the signalling molecule. This may trick the parasites into prematurely arresting their growth.