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A case of mistaken molecular identity

Researchers in Argentina have determined that night blindness is a new clinical symptom of Chagas disease. A team led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar Mariano Jorge Levin and Cristina Paveto of the Institute for Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology (INGEBI), National Research Council, National Council of Scientific Research and Technology in Buenos Aires, found that the immune system of individuals with the tropical disease can shut down a key reaction in the retina, causing night blindness.

"This is a new observation, a new clinical symptom of Chagas disease," said Levin, head of the Laboratory of the Molecular Biology of Chagas Disease at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Levin and colleagues report their findings in the March 2006, issue of the FASEB Journal.

Chagas disease affects people living in regions of Latin America where insects carrying the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi thrive in crowded and substandard housing. At night, the insects emerge and bite, transferring the Chagas parasite into a new host. Their victims are often children. After an acute infection characterized by swollen eyelids, those infected usually feel better. But the parasite remains active inside them, in a chronic phase of infection, quietly invading cells and stimulating the immune system. As a result, people can develop heart and gastrointestinal problems months or years after being infected. Some 30,000 people die each year from Chagas disease, according to the World Health Organization, but the number of people who are carrying latent infections is unknown.

"We now know that Chagas patients may have trouble seeing at night," said Levin. "And this gives us additional motivation to improve conditions for people living in areas where Chagas disease is common."

Silvia Matsumoto, a physician from the Dr. Teodoro Alvarez Hospital in Buenos Aires and first author of the paper, launched the investigation
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Contact: Jennifer Donovan
donovanj@hhmi.org
201-215-8859
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
27-Feb-2006


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