Several species of kinetoplastid protozoa cause major human infectious diseases. Trypanosoma cruzi is responsible for the fatal Chagas disease in large parts of South America, the various species of Leishmania cause a number of different human diseases with millions of patients world-wide, and the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei is the agent of human sleeping sickness, a disastrously re-emerging epidemic of fatal infections in Sub-Saharan Africa. Chemotherapy of all of these infections is in a very unsatisfactory state. cAMP signalling pathways in humans have provided interesting drug targets for a number of clinical conditions, from asthma to impotency. Similarly, cAMP signalling in kinetoplastids might offer useful targets for the development of novel antiparasitic drugs, which makes their exploration an urgent need. Current knowledge suggests that cAMP signalling proceeds along very similar pathways in all kinetoplastid pathogens (T. cruzi, the Leishmanias and T. brucei). Their adenylyl cyclases are structurally very different from the human enzymes and appear to function as enzyme-linked cell surface receptors. They might represent the major sensory apparatus of the kinetoplastids, guiding much of their environmental sensing and host / parasite interaction. The cAMP-specific phosphodiesterases of the kinetoplastids are rather similar to those of human cells and might function in similar ways. Essentially nothing is known on downstream effectors of cAMP in the kinetoplastids. Homologues of protein kinase A and its regulatory subunits have been identified, but their biochemical properties seem to be disctinct from that of mammalian protein kinase A.
Keywords: cyclic nucleotide signalling, drug target, chagas disease, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, adenylyl cyclase
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