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Made to Move

The immune system's macrophages reprogrammed by a toxoplasma parasite protein helping spread the infection but offering a new treatment target

30 November 2022

Made to Move

Estimated to infect around 30% of people worldwide, Toxoplasma gondii is a widespread parasite with a peculiar life cycle: it reproduces sexually only in its main hosts, wild and domestic cats, but can also infect and replicate inside other species, including humans. The ensuing disease, toxoplasmosis, can cause flu-like symptoms before settling in as a generally symptomless chronic condition, although it becomes more dangerous during pregnancy and for patients with weakened immunity. Toxoplasma’s superpower is its ability to hijack the immune system, infecting macrophages, which normally gobble up pathogens, then altering their behaviour. Infection with Toxoplasma (pictured, in red), changes gene expression inside macrophages (in green, with nuclei in blue), reprogramming them to become more mobile, so they themselves help to spread the parasites. Recent research revealed that Toxoplasma uses a protein called GRA28 to re-organise DNA in the macrophages’ nuclei, suggesting a new target for scientists investigating potential treatments.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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