Researchers led by Mira Edgerton, D.D.S., Ph.D., discovered that histatin binds to a specific membrane protein called TRK1p, which regulates potassium ion flow through the cell membrane of the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans and allows the cell to regulate its volume.
The binding action of histatin acts like a "foot in the door," said Edgerton, UB research associate professor of oral biology in the UB School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the study. "Blocking the channel open allows a lethal unregulated flow of potassium and other essential molecules into, and out of, the cell.
"This is the first identification of a specific target for histatin," she said. "The finding paves the way for eventually developing a better therapeutic drug for candidiasis."
Results of the research were presented today (March 11, 2005) at the International Association on Dental Research General Session being held in Baltimore.
Candidiasis also is known as thrush, a disease characterized by whitish spots and ulcers on the membranes of the mouth, tongue and throat. It affects primarily people with weakened immune systems caused by antibiotics, chemotherapy or by diseases such as AIDS. Thrush also affects many denture wearers.
The condition can be treated with antifungal medication in otherwise healthy people, said Edgerton, but it is difficult to treat in persons with compromised immunity and can be deadly if it infects vital organs.
Researchers were aware that histatin usually can keep Candida albicans in check in persons with enough saliva and a healthy immune system, but they did not know precisely how histatin accomplished this.