Published January 21, 2014
Ira Jacob Blader, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, will build on prior research to identify and explore a host cell pathway essential for the growth of the infection-causing parasite Toxoplasma gondii.
The results could aid efforts to develop novel ways of blocking this pathway, or parasite processes dependent on it.
This could pave the way for new therapies to fight devastating infections affecting AIDS and cancer patients as well as fetuses.
Blader has received a $1.18 million, three-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the project, “Control of Toxoplasma gondii Growth by the Host Cell Transcription Factor HIF1.”
Blader and his team will identify and study the role of activin-like kinase (ALK) receptors in Toxoplasma infection.
Parasite signaling via this receptor family drops the host cell’s level of the PHD2 protein.
As the research team demonstrated previously, this occurs when T. gondii activates the transcription factor hypoxia inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) in the host cell — a necessary ingredient for the parasite’s growth.
The researchers now aim to:
“Understanding how and why T. gondii regulates host cell pathways are key steps toward developing new drugs to treat patients suffering from Toxoplasma infections,” says Blader.
In addition, “these studies are likely to provide important information regarding the interaction between T. gondii and its host cell,” Blader notes.
T. gondii causes one of the most widespread infections, affecting half the world’s population.
Although most infected people have no symptoms, those with compromised immune systems face serious, life-threatening illness, Blader notes.
The parasite is commonly found in cat fecal material and can be transmitted by eating undercooked meat. Therefore, it’s important to wash hands after cleaning a litter box, wash vegetables and fully cook meat.
Studying the pathogen’s mechanisms is particularly valuable because results may reveal information about other diseases, Blader says.
“T. gondii can easily be grown in vitro, its genome has been sequenced and it can be genetically manipulated,” he explains.
“It represents an ideal model system to study disease processes of other, related pathogens, including Plasmodium, which causes malaria, and Cryptosporidium, which causes an important secondary infection in AIDS patients.”