Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite full of… therapeutic promises

sep article

FOCUS – The toxoplasmosis parasite. Pregnant women know it well, because of the risks it brings to the foetus. Researchers from Grenoble too, as they have been studying it for several years, and with good reason. Over millions of years of evolution, Toxoplasma gondii has developed the ability to stop inflammatory reaction. A unique mechanism that opens the door to the development of new drugs.




Toxoplasma gondii, le parasite de la toxoplasmose peut être responsable de maladies graves. Mais le mécanisme qu'il a mis au point pourrait ouvrir la voie à de nouveaux médicaments.

In red, the pro­tein secre­ted by Toxoplasma gon­dii in the nucleus of the infec­ted cell, where it will go to control the genes. ARR

The toxo­plas­mo­sis para­site is a tiny, and maybe fabu­lous, living being. Firstly, because, like any good para­site, it has the abi­lity to live and grow by hoo­king onto its host.


Secondly, due to mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion, it has deve­lo­ped the abi­lity to sup­press or even stop inflam­ma­tion.


A mecha­nism that has greatly inter­es­ted the resear­chers of the Institute for advan­ced bios­ciences (Inserm/CNRS/Grenoble Alpes University) and the CEA, for seve­ral years, wor­king to deci­pher Toxoplasma gon­dii ; their latest article was publi­shed in the Journal of expe­ri­men­tal medi­cine.


We find Toxoplasma gon­dii eve­ryw­here. In raw or under­coo­ked meat, in fruit and unwa­shed vege­tables and in cat lit­ter. It is esti­ma­ted that half of the French popu­la­tion is infes­ted.



Toxoplasma gondii takes control of cells



If Toxoplasma gon­dii has a repu­ta­tion, it’s because not only is it the bane of non-immune pre­gnant women, who are at risk of foe­tal mal­for­ma­tions, or even stil­l­birth, but also patients whose immune sys­tem is wea­ke­ned or imma­ture. The para­site dis­plays an unmat­ched lon­ge­vity in the world of microor­ga­nisms ; the extra­or­di­nary abi­lity to sur­vive.


“What we have here is a para­site, very adap­ted to its host, and it thrives well!”, high­lights Mohamed-Ali Hakimi, direc­tor of research at Inserm. “It’s a form of sym­bio­tism.”


Le Dr Hakimi, directeur de recherche à l'INSERM, spécialiste de Toxoplasma gondii, parasite de la toxoplasmose.

Dr. Hakimi, direc­tor of research at Inserm. ARR

In fact, Toxoplama gon­dii has deve­lo­ped a unique and inge­nious stra­tegy, to take control of the cells.

“It causes tran­sient inflam­ma­tion, allo­wing the host cell to kill part of its popu­la­tion of para­sites”, says the resear­cher from Grenoble. “But, not all of them. Some will hide in other parts of the body and cause an anti-inflam­ma­tory reac­tion.”



Even though some viruses and bac­te­ria share the abi­lity of the para­sites to modu­late the infec­ted ani­mal’s immune sys­tem, the com­plexity with which Toxoplasma gon­dii plays on the defences of its host is immea­su­rable. Thus, it controls the pro-inflam­ma­tory immune sys­tem of the host in order to conti­nue its infec­tious cycle and take control… per­sis­tently.


It’s this anti-inflam­ma­tory reac­tion that the resear­chers are now see­king to repli­cate. Work for which the team has obtai­ned fun­ding from the European Research Council (ERC) to the tune of two mil­lion euros.


With luck, by copying the mecha­nism deve­lo­ped by Toxoplasma gon­dii, the deve­lop­ment of new drugs will be pos­sible.



Patricia Cerinsek



Traduction from Speak English Center

Phone : +33 4 76 50 39 79

1 ave­nue du Vercors, 38600 Fontaine FRANCE


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