Disrupting parasite that causes sleeping sickness with drugs can help combat the disease, reveal researchers.
Scientists identified a protein, called proliferating cell nuclear antigen or PCNA, that was vital to the sleeping sickness parasite's good health. Disrupting this protein with drugs could potentially make it impossible for the parasite to reproduce and survive, reducing the health dangers to its human hosts.
The discovery suggested multiple ways to disrupt PCNA's function, said Zachary Mackey, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate and an affiliated researcher in Virginia Tech's Vector-Borne Disease Research Group.
These include using drugs to either overexpress, deplete or block the protein. The fact that PCNA could be exploited in a variety of ways to kill the parasite means that a wide range of small molecules or drugs could be used to deregulate it.
Though a few drugs exist to treat late stages of infection, they are either very expensive or have extremely powerful side effects, according to Mackey.
The next step for the researchers would be to investigate how altering the level of PCNA kills the parasite. Once they have a better understanding of how this protein regulates the life cycle of the parasite, the team can partner with chemists to synthesize small molecules that target its disruption.
The study is published in the Cell Cycle.