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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Yale: Study Advances Fight Against African Sleeping Sickness

When an infected tsetse fly bites humans or other mammals for its blood meal, microscopic parasites (African trypanosomes) in their saliva are in turn transmitted and the recipient often faces severe health consequences, even death.

Unfortunately, the current public health toolbox to control African sleeping sickness is limited, and diagnosis and treatment are especially difficult in remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa where the disease is pronounced. To complicate matters further, the trypanosomes have evolved so that they can evade the victim’s immune response and sustain an infection.

But a promising disease control strategy being developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health might overcome these challenges. It involves blocking the transmission of parasites at the point of entry: the bite site.

Until recently, examining molecular and biochemical metacyclic cells (the infectious form of the parasite that is deposited at the bite site as the tsetse fly blood feeds) has been hampered by the relatively small number of parasites present in saliva and by the presence of various non-infectious parasite developmental forms in fly’s salivary glands.

In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a team of researchers led by professor, Dr. Serap Aksoy describe how they performed single-cell RNA sequencing of individual parasite cells (T. brucei brucei) from infected tsetse salivary glands. The cells were sorted into distinct developmental forms, the data from which provides unique and high-resolution insights into the molecular processes that give rise to infective metacyclic parasites transmitted at the host bite site.

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