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Role of a growth factor in the progression of a parasitic disease

​Researchers in our laboratory, in collaboration​ with a Brazilian team at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (Rio de Janeiro), have identified and described the essential role played by a growth factor, TGFß, in the progression of Chagas disease.​

Published on 3 March 2006
Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, a flagellate protozoan, affects 24 million people in South America. After an acute phase lasting a few days, and a dormancy phase of several years, about 30% of those infected develop chronic illness. This pathology is essentially characterised by massive disabling cardiac fibrosis, the mechanisms of which so far remains unknown.

The Grenoble team, which has strong expertise in the study of the mechanism of action of growth factors, has identified a new mechanism whereby the parasite captures the growth factor TGF-ß in infected cardiomyocytes and probably uses it to control its own intracellular differentiation/proliferation life cycle. These results provide a new example of the subtle mechanisms used by parasites to hijack endogenous signalling molecules in infected cells and use them for their own ends.

Immunoreactivity of TGFß in the intracellular forms of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
Microphotograph of mouse cardiomyocytes in culture infected by T. cruzi trypanosomes (amastigote forms).
A: Nuclei of infected cells and parasites are stained blue by DAPI.
B: TGFß is visualised by immunofluorescence by a green colour, while actin microfibrils are stained red by phalloidin. Strong TGF-ß labelling was observed in the cytoplasm of the intracellular parasites.

This work, together with previously published observations, will now enable the research teams to assess pharmacological inhibitors of the TGFß signalling pathway for the treatment of cardiac fibrosis associated with the chronic forms of Chagas disease.

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