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Researchers get to heart of tropical disease

Columbus, Ohio A new study found that mice lacking a gene crucial to the normal functioning of their immune systems didn't become ill when they were exposed to a pathogen that causes a horrendous infection in the liver and the spleen.

The pathogen, called Leishmania donovani, infects certain internal organs. The parasite causes visceral leishmaniasis which, if left untreated, is almost always fatal. Cases in the United States are extremely rare, but the disease, which is transmitted through the bite of a sand fly, is common in tropical and subtropical countries such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

The finding may lend insight into creating new drugs to treat different diseases that affect the liver, said Abhay Satoskar, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of microbiology at Ohio State University.

The gene makes a protein called STAT1, and its production is triggered whenever the immune system senses a foreign bacterium, virus or other pathogen. STAT1 activation is a critical step in the immune system response, as this protein activates other key immune substances.

So it didn't make sense to the researchers that mice that couldn't produce STAT1 would remain healthy.

"It took us completely by surprise," Satoskar said. "We knew from previous work that mice that lack the substances produced in response to STAT1 develop serious infections. We thought we'd see that in this study, too."

The study appears as a Cutting Edge paper in the July 1 issue of the Journal of Immunology website.

The researchers infected groups of mice with L. donovani. Mice in one group lacked the gene that makes STAT1. Mice in another group lacked the gene that makes an immune system protein called T-bet. In a normal immune response to infection, STAT1 triggers the production of T-bet. Together, these proteins are responsible for the production of interferon gamma, an important protein that helps launch a full-blown immune system
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Contact: Abhay Satoskar
Satoskar.2@osu.edu
614-292-3243
Ohio State University
21-Jun-2006


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