Stopping malaria at the membrane
Hamburg – To survive in man, the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum needs to enter the red blood cells for reproduction. Researchers from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg have now identified the internal signal that triggers the invasion of human erythrocytes. “To enter the cell, the parasites first have to come into intimate contact with the blood cells,” says Tim Gillberger, who conducted the research (PLoS Pathog. 6(6):e1000941). “If we are able to block the molecular mechanism behind that process, the pathogen wouldn’t stand a chance of successful infection.“ Gillberger and colleagues have already started compound screening for so-called PfPKA inhibitors – compounds that block the enzyme cAMP dependent protein kinase A. As the researchers reported in mid-June, PfPKAs are required for the formation of so-called tight junctions between Plasmodium and the blood cell. The enzymes activate the parasite surface protein AMA1 by phosphorylation, which triggers formation of tight junction formation and thus blood cell invasion. Gilberger believes the discovery opens the path to the development of new malaria drugs and vaccines.