Mosquito 'spit glands' Hold Key to Curbing Malaria, Study Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies Shows

Monday, August 12, 2019

Mosquito 'spit glands' Hold Key to Curbing Malaria, Study Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies Shows

Mosquitoes can harbor thousands of malaria-causing parasites in their bodies, yet while slurping blood from a victim, they transmit just a tiny fraction of them. In an effort to define precisely the location of the parasite bottleneck, Johns Hopkins Medicine scientists say they have discovered that the parasites are stopped by a roadblock along the escape route in the insect’s spit glands, a barrier that could potentially serve as a novel target for preventing or reducing malarial infection.

“Our findings add substantial detail to the role of mosquito salivary glands as the gateway organs for diseases spread by these insects,” says Deborah Andrew, M.S., Ph.D., professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “By enhancing transmission barriers that naturally exist in mosquitoes, we potentially can block the spread of malaria and other deadly mosquito-borne diseases, like Zika fever.”

An estimated 220 million people worldwide, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions, have malaria, and more than 400,000 die of the parasite infection each year, according to the World Health Organization. Marked by disabling fever, chills, fatigue and sweating, the disease can be treated with drugs and prevented with mosquito eradication programs, but the high costs of drugs and eradication methods consistently hamper efforts to reduce malaria’s prevalence. Other mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever, strike scores of millions more.

A description of the research is published in the Aug. 6 issue of the journal mBio.

Malaria parasites are dependent on female Anopheles mosquitoes to spread in a complex life cycle that begins when mosquitoes eat male and female parasite sex cells during a blood meal from an infected animal host....

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