A parasite has a secret to controlling pain in humans

In a recent study, scientists have taken a crucial step toward understanding why lesions caused by cutaneous leishmaniasis do not cause pain. This advance opens up new possibilities in pain treatment.

Scientists at Ohio State University have taken a crucial step toward finding out why skin lesions caused by leishmaniasis don’t cause pain. This study, published in the journal iScience, shows how the parasites responsible for this disease alter the host’s perception of pain. This research not only deepens the understanding of leishmaniasis, which affects a million new patients each year, but could also lead to the development of new non-narcotic painkillers.

The study: exploring pain pathways

By analyzing leishmaniasis lesions on the skin of mice, researchers identified altered metabolic pathways that differ from those of uninfected mice. The results suggest that the parasites alter pain perception, likely as a strategy to delay treatment and promote their own survival. Numerous metabolites and signaling pathways have been found to be associated with pain suppression and are linked to the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which is known for its role in a variety of physiological processes, including the pain response.

The presence of these metabolites produced by parasites raises the hypothesis that they could be used as potential analgesics for other health problems. This discovery opens a new path to developing painkillers that do not rely on narcotics.

Skin test for immunity to diseases caused by Leishmania

In addition, Satoskar’s team has developed a standardized skin test to detect immunity to Leishmania donovani, the parasite that causes visceral leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal form of the disease. This test is critical for disease surveillance in the most affected regions and will be required for Phase 3 clinical trials of leishmaniasis vaccines developed by the team. The test uses an antigen called leishmanin and is similar to the skin test for tuberculosis. A positive result indicates that the person has been exposed to the parasite and has cellular immunity that prevents additional clinical symptoms.

Mexican leishmania promotes pain-relieving metabolic reprogramming in skin lesions

Photo: Michael Wunderli

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