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SIGMAL


Targeting malaria transmission through interference with signalling in Plasmodium falciparum gametocytogenesis
EC contribution
: € 969.000
Duration
: 27 months
Starting date
: 01/03/2005
Funding scheme
: Specific Targeted Research Project
Keywords
: Malaria; transmission; gametocyte; cell signalling; protein phosphorylation; antimalarial
Contract/Grant agreement number
: LSHP- CT-2004 -012174
Project web-site:
http://ec.europa.eu/research/health/poverty-diseases/projects/101_en.htm

Background:

Inhibiting transmission of the malaria parasite from infected humans to the mosquito vector would be of considerable interest in the context of malaria control, especially in order to prevent the dissemination of drug-resistant genotypes. Since only sexual forms of the parasite (the gametocytes) are infective to the mosquito, blocking gametocytogenesis would prevent transmission. The molecular control of gametocytogenesis is not understood. Our laboratories have independently brought significant contributions to the characterisation of (i) components of signalling pathways, some of which are likely to be involved in parasite sexual differentiation, and (ii) proteins expressed at the onset of gametocytogenesis, such as Pfg27 and Pfs16. The SIGMAL project merges these lines of investigation to generate an integrated picture of the early events of sexual development at the molecular level. In particular, we use a reverse genetics approach to identify the function of specific genes in gametocytogenesis and gametogenesis. Furthermore, we conduct in silico structure-based and in vitro screening assays for enzymes suspected to be involved in these processes, in order to identify compounds able to interfere with malaria transmission.

Problem:

Malaria is a major public health problem in most of the developing world, and the morbidity and mortality burden inflicted by this disease on many developing countries significantly contributes to hinder their socio-economic development. The emergence and spread of malaria parasites that are resistant to existing anti-malarials exacerbates this problem. A way to control the spread of drug-resistant parasites would be to prevent transmission of the parasite from infected humans to the mosquito vector. To infect a mosquito, the parasite must first develop into specialised sexual forms, the male and female gametocytes, while in the bloodstream of the human host. Although proteins that are specifically expressed at the onset of gametocyte formation have been characterised, the molecular mechanisms controlling this phenomenon remain to be elucidated. It is likely that intracellular signalling, and particularly the phosphorylation of proteins, is involved in gametocyte differentiation and further stages of the sexual cycle. Indeed, reverse genetics data generated within the SIGMAL consortium have already identified protein kinases (the enzymes responsible for protein phosphorylation) and other signalling molecules as essential for Plasmodium sexual development. Interference with these enzymes may provide lead compounds for the development of transmission-blocking drugs.

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