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Harmless Immaturity

The parasite's protein targeted by anti-malaria drug revealed by light-activated tagging

22 March 2023

Harmless Immaturity

Nip it in the bud and break the cycle. That’s the goal of a newly-discovered class of malaria treatments, which aim to interrupt the deadly parasite’s life cycle and prevent its spread. But how exactly the compounds, called sulphonamides, work is unclear. So researchers added a light-activated marker to the drug, and observed as it interacted with infected human blood cells. The marker then highlighted which parasite proteins the treatment interacted with, in particular a protein called Pfs16. With the drug bound to Pfs16, part of the parasite’s maturation process was blocked. The parasites couldn't make mature male sex cells, rendering them unable to reproduce and spread (pictured): green treated parasites (right) unable to 'fly the nest' while untreated, left, break free from the red human cells. Understanding the timing and mechanisms of this process is key to converting this discovery into practical treatments to end transmission for good.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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