A new study has identified a target for inhibiting malaria parasite invasion.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that a malaria parasite protein called calcineurin is essential for parasite invasion into red blood cells.
Human calcineurin is already a proven target for drugs treating other illnesses including adult rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and the new findings suggest that parasite calcineurin should be a focus for the development of new antimalarial drugs.
Senior author Manoj Duraisingh said that the study has great biological and medical significance, particularly in light of the huge disease burden of malaria. As drug resistance is a major problem for malaria control and eradication, it is critical that that they continue to develop new antimalarials that act against previously unexploited targets in the parasite to keep priming the drug pipeline.
The research team at the Harvard Chan School used cutting edge genetic and cell biological methods to provide definitive evidence of the essentiality and function of calcineurin in parasite invasion.
They found that the protein allows the malaria parasite to recognize and attach to the red blood cell surface. Parasites with inhibited calcineurin failed to invade and were not infective.
In addition to opening the door to potential new malaria treatments, the study suggests that calcineurin could be targeted to treat other parasitic diseases.
The study shows that the ability of malaria parasites to engage red blood cells is driven by an ancient mechanism for cellular attachment, said lead author Aditya Paul.
The study appears online in Cell Host & Microbe.