Among the pathogenic protozoa, trypanosomatids stand out due to their medical and economic impact, especially for low-income populations in tropical countries. Together, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis affect millions of humans and animals worldwide, yet are neglected by the pharmaceutical industry. The current drugs for trypanosomatid infections are limited and unsatisfactory, with severe side effects leading to reduced quality of life and, in several instances, to the abandonment of treatment. An intense search for alternative compounds has been performed, aiming at specific parasite targets by cellular, molecular and biochemical approaches. One interesting strategy could be interference with the protozoan cell death pathways. However, these pathways are poorly understood in unicellular eukaryotes, with the controversial existence and uncertain biological relevance of programmed cell death (PCD). This chapter will discuss apoptosis-like and autophagic cell death and necrosis in Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania sp. and the possible implications of these pathways for the parasite life cycle and infection persistence. It will also revisit the genomic and proteomic metadata of these trypanosomatids in the literature to rebuild the map of cell death proteins expressed under different conditions. The interaction of leading candidates with parasite-specific molecules, especially with enzymes that regulate key steps in the cell death process, is a rational and attractive alternative for drug development for these neglected diseases.
Part of the book: Cell Death
Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, is endemic to Latin America, standing out as a socio-economic problem for low-income tropical populations. Such disease affects millions of people worldwide and emerges in nonendemic areas due to migration and climate changes. The current chemotherapy is restricted to two nitroderivatives (benznidazole and nifurtimox), which is unsatisfactory due to limited efficacy (particularly in chronic phase) and adverse side effects. T. cruzi life cycle is complex, including invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and three developmental forms (epimastigotes, trypomastigotes, and amastigotes). In this chapter, we will discuss promising cellular and molecular targets present in the vertebrate-dwelling forms of the parasite (trypomastigotes and amastigotes). Among the cellular targets, the mitochondrion is the most frequently studied; while among the molecular ones, we highlight squalene synthase, C14α-sterol demethylase, and cysteine proteases. In this scenario, proteomics becomes a valuable tool for the identification of other molecular targets, and some previously identified candidates will be also discussed. Multidisciplinary studies are needed to identify novel key molecules in T. cruzi in order to increase trypanocidal activity and reduce mammalian toxicity, ensuring the development of novel drugs for Chagas disease.
Part of the book: Biology of Trypanosoma cruzi