June 18, 2009 / 12:38 AM / 10 years ago

Experts uncover how malaria gets into host cells

Indian flood victims suffering from malaria lie on hospital beds in Alindra, 90 km (56 miles) south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 18, 2004. REUTERS/Amit Dave

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Parasites which cause malaria appear to be using a handful of proteins to steal into the red blood cells of their hosts, scientists have found.

In a paper published in Nature, experts from Australia and the United States expressed hope that drugs may one day be designed to thwart this infection process.

“This study reveals the identity of a novel protein trafficking apparatus ... and hence, provides an ‘Achilles heel’ for anti-malaria drug developers,” they wrote.

Malaria parasites reside in bubbles, called vacuoles, inside infected cells. Parasites, therefore, have to be exported across two membranes — the parasite membrane and the vacuole membrane — before they reach the blood cells of their hosts.

While the mechanism for exporting parasite proteins across the parasite membrane has been known for some time, how they get out of the vacuole and into host cells has been less clear.

The team, led by Brendan Crabb at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia, found how the handful of proteins, called PTEX, is found within the vacuole membrane.

“PTEX is made up of a handful of proteins that join together to make the exporting machinery,” they wrote.

“It is thought that hundreds of malaria parasite proteins may be exported into the host red blood cells via this route, and that the process is crucial to the virulence and viability of the parasite,” they added.

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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