Washington: In a first, researchers have found that the malaria parasite which kills nearly 435,000 people worldwide every year, prepares for its life cycle in humans even before it enters the host, an advance that may lead to new drug targets against the mosquito-bourne disease. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, noted that the malaria parasite Plasmodium makes a blueprint of the proteins it needs to infect the liver while still living in the mosquito, well in advance of its life cycle stages in the human host.
The researchers, including those from Pennsylvania State University in the US, studied the proteins, and other molecules produced by the parasite in its life cycle stage in mosquitoes called sporozoites.
"We found that the sporozoites make and store all these plans for proteins, but then don't actually make the protein," said study co-author Kristian Swearingen from Seattle's Institute for Systems Biology in the US.
The researchers said that the strategy makes the Plasmodium adaptable, helping it launch its attack seconds after the mosquito bites a human.
"It's the first window into a process in which the proteins are only made once the parasite negotiates the liver environment, suggesting the proteins are needed for the parasite to infect the human," Swearingen said.
He added that the parasite may exist in this prepared state for days or even weeks until it gets the right opportunity to strike.
"Any of these proteins that are critical for the parasite to invade the liver could serve as potential targets for new malaria drugs or vaccines," he said.