How deadly parasites ‘glide’ into human cells

X-ray analysis reveals structure of molecular machinery of malaria and toxoplasmosis pathogens

An investigation at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III provides new insights into the molecular machinery by which certain parasites travel through the human organism. The study, led by Christian Löw from the Hamburg branch of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory EMBL, analyzed the so-called gliding movement of the malaria and toxoplasmosis parasites. The results, which the interdisciplinary team presents in the journal Communications Biology, can aid the search for new drugs against the pathogens.

In biological terms, gliding refers to the type of movement during which a cell moves along a surface without changing its shape. This form of movement is unique to parasites from the phylum Apicomplexa, such as Plasmodium and Toxoplasma. Both parasites, which are transmitted by mosquitoes and cats, have an enormous impact on global heath. Plasmodium causes 228 million malaria infections and around 400 000 deaths per year. Toxoplasma, which infects even one third of the human population, can cause severe symptoms in some people, and is particularly dangerous during pregnancy.

Read more on the DESY PETRA III website

Image: Molecular structure of essential light chain (ELC) protein in Plasmodium glideosome. Blue represents the electron density of the protein, with bonds between atoms indicated in yellow and water molecules indicated in red. The crystal structure at a resolution of 1.5 Ångström (0.15 millionths of a millimetre) was obtained at the EMBL beamlines at DESY’S X-ray source PETRA III. Credit: EMBL, Samuel Pazicky