These wiggly creatures are schistosomes – worm-like parasites that infect more than 200 million people worldwide and linger in the bloodstream for decades. But this isn’t a gentle environment and they easily get damaged. Their unusual persistence seems to come down to special stem cells (the clump of yellow blobs in the top two rows) that regenerate the parasites’ ageing bodies and worn-out cells. Researchers have discovered that switching off gene called cpb1 makes the parasites respond as if they’ve been severely injured, so some of their cells die. The saviour stem cells then kick into action to repair the damage, multiplying to create many new cells (bottom two rows). These new cells then specialise into regular parasite cells and lose their immortal properties, meaning that eventually the parasites die off. Perhaps treatments blocking cpb1 or targeting the stem cells in other ways could lead to new treatments for schistosome infections.
Written by Kat Arney
- Image from work by Julie N. R. Collins and James J. Collins III
- Department of Pharmacology, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA
- Image originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
- Published in PLOS Pathogens, November 2016