Malaria-resistant mosquitoes battle disease with 'molecular warhead'

DALLAS July 5, 2007 -- A team led by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers has discovered why some mosquitoes are resistant to malaria, a finding that may one day help fight a disease that afflicts and kills millions of people.

A team led by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers has discovered why some mosquitoes are resistant to malaria, a finding that may one day help fight a disease that afflicts and kills millions of people.

The researchers focused on TEP1, a protein in the mosquitos immune system. When a mosquito is infected with a parasite that causes malaria, a biochemical reaction is triggered that physically transforms TEP1 into an active state capable of grabbing on to the parasites surface and targeting it for termination.

In a study appearing online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the UT Southwestern group used a method called X-ray crystallography to uncover TEP1s three-dimensional structure. They found that the genetic differences between mosquitoes that are resistant and those that are susceptible to the parasite mostly manifest in a region of the TEP1 protein dubbed the warhead, the portion that grabs the malarial parasite.

TEP1 is a scout that finds the enemy, in this case malarial parasites, then plants a homing signal on the enemy and calls in the air strike, said Dr. Richard Baxter, a postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study.

Understanding how some mosquitoes can fend off malaria might someday lead to reducing or even eliminating the mosquitos capacity to transmit the devastating disease, Dr. Baxter said.

We have been trying to cure people of malaria for over a century, said Dr. Baxter, who also is a research associate with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern. Only recently have people started to think about curing mosquitoes of malaria.

Nobel laureate Dr.

Contact: Aline McKenzie
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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