Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Cell invasion by the malaria parasite

Last Monday's seminar in Crystallography (and the last of the summer term) was given by Dr Mike Blackman of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in Mill Hill, near London. His title was "Protease involvement in host cell invasion and exit by the malaria parasite. The following short report is contributed by Christine Slingsby:

Dr Blackman's lecture and discussion was on the topic of the
characterisation of several serine proteases, identified from the
genome of the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. One appears to operate in the membrane and one in the cytoplasm.

These are key enzymes used by the parasite to invade a host cell. Although they cleave with great precision certain proteins on the surface of the merozoite (blood stage of the parasite), it is unclear at the molecular level how the enzymes recognise their substrates. In other words, unlike, say, trypsin, which cleaves on the C-terminal side of a lysine of arginine, these subtilisin-like serine proteases have little sequence specificity.

Dr Blackman used the analogy of the success of HIV treatments based on the HIV aspartic protease, to enthusiastically push his work forward to try and discover inhibitors of these new enzymes as potential anti-malarial drugs.

Much more information is available on his website: http://www.nimr.mrc.ac.uk/parasitol/blackman/

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