According to research published in PLOS Biology, scientists in Australia have discovered a way to halt the invasion of the toxoplasmosis-causing parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) into cells, depriving the parasite of a key factor necessary for its growth.
The study found that there are two steps that allow T. gondii to take hold within the body: the parasite needs to enter a host cell; from there it replicates and spreads.
“After Toxoplasma infects humans it needs to switch off the infection machinery and switch on replication,” said Chris Tonkin, PhD., associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, who led the study. “Without the ability to do this, Toxoplasma will die and be unable to cause disease. We discovered that the gene protein kinase A (PKA) is required for this switch. Without PKA, Toxoplasma can’t hold steady.”
The findings are an important step in getting closer to developing a vaccine to protect pregnant women from the parasite, which carries risk of miscarriage or birth defects, and may also have a link to neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, according to the study.
T. gondii is transmitted by cat feces and can be acquired from raw meat.
The discovery was made using microscopy technology available at the Institute’s Centre for Dynamic Imaging.