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Category: publications

An X-Domain Phosphoinositide Phospholipase C (PI-PLC-like) of Trypanosoma brucei Has a Surface Localization and Is Essential for Proliferation

Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of African trypanosomiasis, a deadly disease that affects humans and cattle. There are very few drugs to treat it, and there is evidence of mounting resistance, raising the need for new drug development. Here, we report the presence of a phosphoinositide phospholipase C (TbPI-PLC-like), containing an X and a PDZ domain, that is similar to the previously characterized TbPI-PLC1. TbPI-PLC-like only possesses the X catalytic domain and does not have the EF-hand, Y, and C2 domains, having instead a PDZ domain. Recombinant TbPI-PLC-like does not hydrolyze phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) and does not modulate TbPI-PLC1 activity in vitro. TbPI-PLC-like shows a plasma membrane and intracellular localization in permeabilized cells and a surface localization in non-permeabilized cells. Surprisingly, knockdown of TbPI-PLC-like expression by RNAi significantly affected proliferation of both procyclic and bloodstream trypomastigotes. This is in contrast with the lack of effect of downregulation of expression of TbPI-PLC1.

Núria W Negrão, Logan P Crowe, Brian S Mantilla, Rodrigo P Baptista, Sharon King-Keller, Guozhong Huang, Roberto Docampo. Pathogens. 2023 Feb 28;12(3):386. doi: 10.3390/pathogens12030386.

First bovine vaccine to prevent human schistosomiasis – a cluster randomised Phase 3 clinical trial


Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical parasitic disease caused by blood flukes of the genus Schistosoma. Schistosoma japonicum is zoonotic in China, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with bovines acting as major reservoirs of human infection. The primary objective of the trial was to examine the impact of a combination of human mass chemotherapy, snail control through mollusciciding, and SjCTPI bovine vaccination on the rate of human infection.


A 5-year phase IIIa cluster randomized control trial was conducted among 18 schistosomiasis-endemic villages comprising 18,221 residents in Northern Samar, The Philippines.


Overall, bovine vaccination resulted in a statistically significant decrease in human infection (relative risk [RR] = 0.75; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.69 to 0.82) across all trial follow-ups. The best outcome of the trial was when bovine vaccination was combined with snail mollusciciding. This combination resulted in a 31% reduction (RR = 0.69; 95% CI = 0.61 to 0.78) in human infection.


This is the first trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of a bovine vaccine for schistosomiasis in reducing human schistosome infection. The trial is registered with Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12619001048178).

Allen G. Ross, Donald A. Harn, Delia Chy, Marianette Inobaya, Jerric R. Guevarra, Lisa Shollenberger, Yuesheng Li, Donald P. McManus, Darren J. Gray and Gail M. Williams. 2023. International Journal of Infectious Diseases. S1201-9712(23)00038-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2023.01.037. Online ahead of print.

Chemical Optimization of CBL0137 for Human African Trypanosomiasis Lead Drug Discovery

The carbazole CBL0137 (1) is a lead for drug development against human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), a disease caused by Trypanosoma brucei. To advance 1 as a candidate drug, we synthesized new analogs that were evaluated for the physicochemical properties, antitrypanosome potency, selectivity against human cells, metabolism in microsomes or hepatocytes, and efflux ratios. Structure-activity/property analyses of analogs revealed eight new compounds with higher or equivalent selectivity indices (5j5t5v5w5y8d13i, and 22e). Based on the overall compound profiles, compounds 5v and 5w were selected for assessment in a mouse model of HAT; while 5v demonstrated a lead-like profile for HAT drug development, 5w showed a lack of efficacy. Lessons from these studies will inform further optimization of carbazoles for HAT and other indications.

Baljinder Singh, Amrita Sharma, Naresh Gunaganti, Mitch Rivers, Pradip K Gadekar, Brady Greene, Michael Chichioco, Carlos E Sanz-Rodriguez, Courtney Fu, Catherine LeBlanc, Erin Burchfield, Nyle Sharif, Benjamin Hoffman, Gaurav Kumar, Andrei Purmal, Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, Michael P Pollastri. J Med Chem. 2023 Jan 25. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.2c01767.

Delayed Activation of T Cells at the Site of Infection Facilitates the Establishment of Trypanosoma cruzi in Both Naive and Immune Hosts

Although parasite entry through breaks in the skin or mucosa is one of the main routes of natural transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi, little is known about the host cell types initially invaded nor the ability of those host cells to initiate immune responses at the site of infection. To gain insights into these early events, we studied the fate of fluorescently tagged T. cruzi delivered subcutaneously in mouse footpads or ears. We demonstrate that the majority of parasites introduced into the skin initially proliferate there until 8 to 10 days postinfection, when the parasite load decreases. This decline in parasite numbers is dependent on the presence of an intact T cell compartment and on the ability of hosts to produce gamma interferon (IFN-γ). Many of the parasite-containing cells at the initial infection site display a macrophage/monocyte phenotype but with low expression of activation markers, suggesting that these cells provide an early niche for T. cruzi proliferation, rather than being active in parasite control. It is only after the first round of T. cruzi replication and release from host cells that signs of immune activation and control of parasites become apparent. The delay in the activation and failure to rapidly control parasite replication are observed even when T. cruzi-primed T cells are present, such as in chronically infected mice. This failure of a primed immune system to recognize and react prior to extensive parasite expansion at the infection site likely poses a significant challenge for the development of vaccines aiming to prevent T. cruzi infection. IMPORTANCE Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite causing Chagas disease, usually infects through the mucosa or breaks in the skin, but little is known about the parasite’s fate at the site of entry or the early events involving immune control there. Here, we track the local proliferation and subsequent dissemination of fluorescently tagged T. cruzi and the initial immune response at the point of entry. We show that T. cruzi preferentially infects innate immune cells in the skin and that the stimulation of an adaptive T cell response does not occur until after the release of parasites from this first round of infected host cells. This first immunologically “silent” proliferation occurs even in the presence of a strong immune T cell memory generated by previous infection. This capacity of T. cruzi to establish infections while avoiding initial immune recognition has important implications for the potential to develop vaccines to prevent T. cruzi infection.

Angel M Padilla, Charles Rosenberg, Peter Cook, Fernando Sanchez-Valdez, Caroline McElhannon, Rick L Tarleton. mSphere. 2023 Jan 25;e0060122. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00601-22.

TriTrypDB: An integrated functional genomics resource for kinetoplastida

Parasitic diseases caused by kinetoplastid parasites are a burden to public health throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world. TriTrypDB ( is a free online resource for data mining of genomic and functional data from these kinetoplastid parasites and is part of the VEuPathDB Bioinformatics Resource Center ( As of release 59, TriTrypDB hosts 83 kinetoplastid genomes, nine of which, including Trypanosoma brucei brucei TREU927, Trypanosoma cruzi CL Brener and Leishmania major Friedlin, undergo manual curation by integrating information from scientific publications, high-throughput assays and user submitted comments. TriTrypDB also integrates transcriptomic, proteomic, epigenomic, population-level and isolate data, functional information from genome-wide RNAi knock-down and fluorescent tagging, and results from automated bioinformatics analysis pipelines. TriTrypDB offers a user-friendly web interface embedded with a genome browser, search strategy system and bioinformatics tools to support custom in silico experiments that leverage integrated data. A Galaxy workspace enables users to analyze their private data (e.g., RNA-sequencing, variant calling, etc.) and explore their results privately in the context of publicly available information in the database. The recent addition of an annotation platform based on Apollo enables users to provide both functional and structural changes that will appear as ‘community annotations’ immediately and, pending curatorial review, will be integrated into the official genome annotation.

Achchuthan Shanmugasundram, David Starns, Ulrike Böhme, Beatrice Amos, Paul A Wilkinson, Omar S Harb, Susanne Warrenfeltz, Jessica C Kissinger, Mary Ann McDowell, David S Roos, Kathryn Crouch, Andrew R Jones. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2023 Jan 19;17(1):e0011058. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0011058.

Praziquantel target validation of a Ca2+ permeable channel in schistosomes


  • Schistosomiasis is a devastating neglected helminthic disease.
  • Praziquantel (PZQ) is the most important drug against schistosomiasis.
  • Previous work identified a TRP channel of the melastatin type as a PZQ target.
  • Molecular studies now reveal the basis for varied PZQ sensitivity of different helminths.

Roberto Docampo. Cell Calcium. 2023 Jan 18;110:102698. doi: 10.1016/j.ceca.2023.102698

Malaria disrupts the rhesus macaque gut microbiome

Previous studies have suggested that a relationship exists between severity and transmissibility of malaria and variations in the gut microbiome, yet only limited information exists on the temporal dynamics of the gut microbial community during a malarial infection. Here, using a rhesus macaque model of relapsing malaria, we investigate how malaria affects the gut microbiome. In this study, we performed 16S sequencing on DNA isolated from rectal swabs of rhesus macaques over the course of an experimental malarial infection with Plasmodium cynomolgi and analyzed gut bacterial taxa abundance across primary and relapsing infections. We also performed metabolomics on blood plasma from the animals at the same timepoints and investigated changes in metabolic pathways over time. Members of Proteobacteria (family Helicobacteraceae) increased dramatically in relative abundance in the animal’s gut microbiome during peak infection while Firmicutes (family Lactobacillaceae and Ruminococcaceae), Bacteroidetes (family Prevotellaceae) and Spirochaetes amongst others decreased compared to baseline levels. Alpha diversity metrics indicated decreased microbiome diversity at the peak of parasitemia, followed by restoration of diversity post-treatment. Comparison with healthy subjects suggested that the rectal microbiome during acute malaria is enriched with commensal bacteria typically found in the healthy animal’s mucosa. Significant changes in the tryptophan-kynurenine immunomodulatory pathway were detected at peak infection with P. cynomolgi, a finding that has been described previously in the context of P. vivax infections in humans. During relapses, which have been shown to be associated with less inflammation and clinical severity, we observed minimal disruption to the gut microbiome, despite parasites being present. Altogether, these data suggest that the metabolic shift occurring during acute infection is associated with a concomitant shift in the gut microbiome, which is reversed post-treatment.

Danielle N Farinella, Sukhpreet Kaur, ViLinh Tran, Monica Cabrera-Mora, Chester J Joyner, Stacey A Lapp, Suman B Pakala, Mustafa V Nural, Jeremy D DeBarry, Jessica C Kissinger, Dean P Jones, Alberto Moreno, Mary R Galinski, Regina Joice Cordy. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2023 Jan 13;12:1058926. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2022.1058926. eCollection 2022.

Epitopes in the Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Attachment Signal Peptide of Trypanosoma cruzi Mucin Proteins Generate Robust But Delayed and Nonprotective CD8+ T Cell Responses

Infection with the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi elicits substantial CD8+ T cell responses that disproportionately target epitopes encoded in the large trans-sialidase (TS) gene family. Within the C57BL/6 infection model, a significant proportion (30-40%) of the T. cruzi-specific CD8+ T cell response targets two immunodominant TS epitopes, TSKb18 and TSKb20. However, both TS-specific CD8+ T cell responses are dispensable for immune control, and TS-based vaccines have no demonstrable impact on parasite persistence, a determinant of disease. Besides TS, the specificity and protective capacity of CD8+ T cells that mediate immune control of T. cruzi infection are unknown. With the goal of identifying alternative CD8+ T cell targets, we designed and screened a representative set of genome-wide, in silico-predicted epitopes. Our screen identified a previously uncharacterized, to our knowledge, T cell epitope MUCKb25, found within mucin family proteins, the third most expanded large gene family in T. cruzi. The MUCKb25-specific response was characterized by delayed kinetics, relative to TS-specific responses, and extensive cross-reactivity with a large number of endogenous epitope variants. Similar to TS-specific responses, the MUCKb25 response was dispensable for control of the infection, and vaccination to generate MUCK-specific CD8+ T cells failed to confer protection. The lack of protection by MUCK vaccination was partly attributed to the fact that MUCKb25-specific T cells exhibit limited recognition of T. cruzi-infected host cells. Overall, these results indicate that the CD8+ T cell compartment in many T. cruzi-infected mice is occupied by cells with minimal apparent effector potential.

Molly E Bunkofske, Natasha Perumal, Brooke White, Eva-Maria Strauch, Rick Tarleton. J Immunol. 2023 Jan 4;ji2200723. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2200723.

AIM2 sensors mediate immunity to Plasmodium infection in hepatocytes

Malaria, caused by Plasmodium parasites is a severe disease affecting millions of people around the world. Plasmodium undergoes obligatory development and replication in the hepatocytes, before initiating the life-threatening blood-stage of malaria. Although the natural immune responses impeding Plasmodium infection and development in the liver are key to controlling clinical malaria and transmission, those remain relatively unknown. Here we demonstrate that the DNA of Plasmodium parasites is sensed by cytosolic AIM2 (absent in melanoma 2) receptors in the infected hepatocytes, resulting in Caspase-1 activation. Remarkably, Caspase-1 was observed to undergo unconventional proteolytic processing in hepatocytes, resulting in the activation of the membrane pore-forming protein, Gasdermin D, but not inflammasome-associated proinflammatory cytokines. Nevertheless, this resulted in the elimination of Plasmodium-infected hepatocytes and the control of malaria infection in the liver. Our study uncovers a pathway of natural immunity critical for the control of malaria in the liver.

Camila Marques-da-Silva, Barun Poudel, Rodrigo P Baptista, Kristen Peissig, Lisa S Hancox, Justine C Shiau, Lecia L Pewe, Melanie J Shears, Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, Photini Sinnis, Dennis E Kyle, Prajwal Gurung, John T Harty, Samarchith P Kurup. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Jan 10;120(2):e2210181120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2210181120.

B cell responses in chronic Chagas disease: Waning of Trypanosoma cruzi-specific antibody-secreting cells following successful etiological treatment

Background: A drawback in the treatment of chronic Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is the long time required to achieve complete loss of serological reactivity, the standard for determining treatment efficacy.

Methods: Antibody-secreting and memory B cells specific for Trypanosoma cruzi and their degree of differentiation were evaluated in adult and pediatric subjects with chronic Chagas disease prior to and after etiological treatment.

Results: Trypanosoma cruzi-specific antibody-secreting cells disappeared from the circulation in benznidazole or nifurtimox-treated subjects with declining parasite-specific antibody levels posttreatment, whereas B cells in most subjects with unaltered antibody levels were low prior to treatment and did not change after treatment. The timing of the decay in parasite-specific antibody-secreting B cells was similar to that in parasite-specific antibodies as measured by a Luminex-based assay, but preceded the decay in antibody levels detected by conventional serology. The phenotype of total B cells returned to a non-infection profile after successful treatment.

Conclusions: T. cruzi-specific antibodies in the circulation of chronically T. cruzi-infected subjects likely derive from both antigen-driven plasmablasts, that disappear following successful treatment, and long-lived plasma cells that persist and account for the low frequency and long course to complete seronegative conversion in successfully treated subjects.

G Cesar, M A Natale, M C Albareda, M G Alvarez, B Lococo, Ana María De Rissio, Marisa Fernandez, M Castro Eiro, G Bertocchi, B E White, F Zabaleta, R Viotti, R L Tarleton, S A Laucella.J Infect Dis. 2022 Dec 26;jiac495. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiac495. Online ahead of print.