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New understanding of parasite cell structures may provide treatments for serious tropical diseases

Don't even think about trying to pronounce it. Although it is found in many organisms including humans, glycosylphosphatidylinositol has remained a mouthful for laymen and a puzzle for scientists. And yet GPIs, as science thankfully calls these cellular lipids, are important in numerous biological functions, including disease transmission.

Now, for the first time, cellular biologists at the University of Georgia have developed new tools to study and localize GPIs in living organisms and are discovering a new understanding of how they work in tropical parasites that cause human disease and suffering.

The research was published in the May 9 issue of The FEBS (Federation of European Biochemical Societies) Journal by Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, professor of cellular and molecular biology, and Sandesh Subramanya, a former doctoral student in the department of cellular biology at UGA.

While some GPIs are "attached" to proteins cells, other GPIs are "free," and it is these footloose cellular wanderers that interested Mensa-Wilmot. Until the UGA team developed new molecular tools to study free GPIs in living organisms, their function was unclear at best. Now, new avenues of study could open because of these molecular tools.

Although the term "lipid" is often substituted for "fat," these cell components actually have numerous functions. They are hydrocarbon-containing organic compounds that living cells must have to maintain structure and function. Glycolipids are attached to carbohydrates, and they are involved with cellular energy and also serve as markers for cellular recognition.

The researchers discovered a new function for these glycolipids--they are cleaved in response to cell stress caused by changes in osmotic pressure and relative acidity or alkalinity.

The research by the UGA team is especially important in better understanding the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human African trypanosomiasis, a disease that affects
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Contact: Kim Carlyle
kcarlyle@uga.edu
706-583-0913
University of Georgia
9-May-2006


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