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Disrupting male molecules that stimulate egg laying by female parasitic flatworms as a means to reduce host symptoms

29 April 2022

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Parasitic flatworms colonising the circulatory system, schistosomes are a serious global health concern, estimated to infect 220 million people, mostly in poorer nations, and causing around 250,000 deaths a year. Most health problems associated with schistosomiasis stem from the females’ huge production of eggs, which can accumulate inside organs. To become reproductively active and keep laying eggs, a female worm (pictured, in pink), must be paired with a larger male (in blue), slotting into a groove along its body. Researchers have long known this association is essential, but only recently uncovered how males control female reproduction. Paired males produce an enzyme, SmNRPS, that synthesises a small peptide, named BATT; secreted out into the environment, this pheromone then activates female reproduction, and can do so even in the absence of a male. Disrupting this signalling pathway could prevent egg production, suggesting new avenues for treatments to reduce the symptoms of infection.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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