Scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been able to identify one gene that accounts for 90% of the toxicity of a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which causes serious disease in patients with weakened immune systems, and birth defects or death of fetuses of pregnant women who get infected.
ROP18, the T. gondii virulence gene identified by researchers, makes a protein that belongs to a class of signaling factors known as kinases that are ubiquitous in human biology.
Inside the host cell, ROP18 presumably disrupts some important signaling process, altering the intracellular environment in a way that favors the parasite’s growth and reproduction. [The author] notes that ROP18’s primary role in T. gondii virulence suggests that similar genes in malaria parasites may be worthy of further study.
These findings may pave the way in developing further therapeutic strategies for the treatment of toxoplasmosis, and other pathogens bearing ROP18 equivalent genes.