Insidious parasites deceive the immune system by forming hybrids

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have mapped how a small dangerous parasite forms new variants that can better avoid the immune system and cause disease.

The insidious parasite Trypanosoma cruzi can cause Chaga’s disease, which causes severe symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract and heart. The disease affects millions of people in Central and South America and kills thousands.

The small parasite has many genes that can vary greatly, which means that it can deceive the immune system, however, it is largely unknown how it works, but now researchers, including Karolinska Institutet, have shown how the parasite can form new varieties, hybrids , which is often better at avoiding the immune system and causing disease.

Important knowledge

The researchers have mapped the genetic material of the parent strains and the offspring over time and have thus been able to map how the hybrids are formed. They were able to establish that the hybrids initially contain all the DNA from both parents, but that the amount of DNA then gradually decreases to eventually end up at the right level, in addition, the researchers found that a large exchange of genetic material takes place, so-called genetic recombination.

This knowledge is important because the exchange of genetic material can lead to new gene variants that make the parasite more dangerous. More knowledge about how this process works can contribute to new methods for diagnosing, preventing and treating Chaga’s disease, which is a major problem in Central and South America, says Björn Anderssonwho led the study, in a press release.

He is a professor of genomic analysis at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Karolinska Institutet. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK and Helmholtz Centre Munich and has been published in the journal eLife. The study is based on parasite strains that have spontaneously formed hybrids in the laboratory.

Will improve diagnostics

“We are now continuing to study materials from nature and from patients to map in more detail how the parasite does to vary its genes. We are also working to improve the diagnosis of Chaga’s disease in Bolivia “, says Björn Andersson in the press release.

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