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Sticky Infections

Insight into how parasites communicate

13 May 2023

Sticky Infections

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis; the top three sexually transmitted infections worldwide. What's at number 4? Trichomoniasis. It's caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis, which sticks to cells lining the vagina or the urine-carrying duct in the penis. Different strains can infect the same body. Researchers now investigate how these strains communicate with each other by infecting human cells in a dish. Scanning electron microscopy of parasites (pictured, blue) revealed that different strains — some that stick well to cells (CDC1132) and some that are less sticky (G3) — communicate with each other by sending out tube-like protrusions (orange) of their cell membrane. This is facilitated by membrane packages (extracellular vesicles) released by the parasites. Analysing these vesicles revealed that they contain proteins involved in signalling and communication. Importantly, they found CDC1132 and G3 strains both become stickier in the presence of other strains. This may have implications for how trichomoniasis infection progresses.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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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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