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J Neurovirol. 2008 Oct;14(5):344-51. doi: 10.1080/13550280802282934. Epub 2008 Nov 18.

Traversal of human and animal trypanosomes across the blood-brain barrier.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


The neurological complications of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) in man caused by the unicellular protozoan parasites Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense are a consequence of the penetration of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) by trypanosomes that enter the central nervous system (CNS). Yet the mechanisms by which African trypanosomes cross the true BBB comprised of brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) remain unclear. Human BBB models used to determine how African trypanosomes initially interact in vitro with the human BBB proper suggest that parasites cross the human BBB in part by generating Ca(2+) activation signals in human BMECs through the activity of parasite cysteine proteases. In vivo murine models of HAT have suggested additional mechanisms of BBB traversal by trypanosomes, with recent compelling evidence for the important role of interferon-gamma in facilitating this process. A clear understanding of how trypanosomes enter the CNS is critical for both understanding the neuropathogenesis of HAT and in developing more effective drug therapies for late-stage disease.

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