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Parasitology. 1998;116 Suppl:S73-81.

The neglected saliva: medically important toxins in the saliva of human lice.

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Graduate Center for Toxicology, University of Kentucky, Lexington 40536-0305, USA.


Although there has been a great deal of research effort within the last two decades on identifying the active components of the saliva of blood-sucking ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas and bugs, essentially neglected have been the human lice. Despite initial reports in the early part of this century suggestive of vasodilatory, anticoagulant and immunosuppressive properties of the saliva, for the next 50 years there were no biochemical studies on the active principles. Very recently, anatomical and biochemical studies have begun to characterize the bioactive molecules in lice saliva. The louse stocks a salivary vasodilator in excess over what is needed for a single bite, and injects similar amounts at each successive bite. The vasodilator in lice saliva appears to have different pharmacological properties than peroxidative, oxidative and maxidilan types of vasodilators reported from other blood-sucking insects. Possible anticoagulant activities have also been characterized. This belated, but welcome, interest comes at a time of resurgence of lice-born disease in certain parts of Africa, and of resistance to chemical control in Europe and North America.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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