Dr Martha Betson
Academic and research departmentsSchool of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health.
Martha graduated from University of Cambridge with a BA in Natural Sciences and went on to do a PhD in cell biology at University College London. She then undertook postdoctoral work at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, where she used the fruit fly as a model to gain insight into signalling pathways regulating cancer. While in Boston Martha developed an interest in public health and infectious diseases. After studying for an MSc in Control of Infectious Diseases at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof Russell Stothard, first at the Natural History Museum and then at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Here she played an integral role in the Schistosomiasis in Mothers and Infants project, investigating the epidemiology of a neglected parasitic disease in mothers and young children living in lakeshore communities in Uganda. Subsequently Martha took up a post as a research fellow in One Health at the Royal Veterinary College. Martha joined the School of Veterinary Medicine in May 2015 and became Head of Department of Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health in 2019.
Martha's research integrates laboratory work, fieldwork and epidemiology to understand the transmission dynamics of parasitic diseases of humans and animals. This includes the study of the population genetics of parasites and their hosts and the development and evaluation of diagnostic tests. Martha has a particular interest in neglected tropical diseases and parasitic diseases at the wildlife-domestic animal-human interface. She advocates an interdisciplinary One Health approach in research, in control of parasitic diseases and to address major global issues such as food security. She has long-standing collaborations with researchers at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Royal Veterinary College and University of Copenhagen.
Recent research topics include:
- Understanding the epidemiology, phylogeography, population structure and transmission dynamics of helminth parasites, in particular Ascaris, Trichuris and Schistosoma mansoni
- Assessing the contribution of macaque reservoir hosts to the emergence of Plasmodium knowlesi infection in southeast Asia
- Investigating the epidemiology of non-falciparum malaria infections in sub-Saharan Africa and implications for malaria control
- One Health evaluation through participation in the COST-funded Network for Evaluation of One Health (NEOH)
Martha is module co-coordinator for the Veterinary Medicine and Science module "Foundations of Disease Three - Pathology of the Integument and Alimentary Systems". She contributes to parasitology and epidemiology teaching on a number of other Veterinary Medicine and Science, MSc Veterinary Microbiology and MSc Medical Microbiology modules.
Human trichuriasis is a neglected tropical disease which affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide and is particularly prevalent among children living in areas where sanitation is poor. This review examines the current knowledge on the taxonomy, genetics and phylogeography of human Trichuris and its relationship to whipworm parasites in other host species. The evidence for zoonotic transmission of Trichuris and the emergence of anthelmintic resistance is assessed. In addition, the implications of the recent publication of the genomes and transcriptomes of multiple Trichuris species are discussed. Finally, priorities for future research in Trichuris genetics are proposed.
Cells of metazoan organisms respond to DNA damage by arresting their cell cycle to repair DNA, or they undergo apoptosis. Two protein kinases, ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) and ATM and Rad-3 related (ATR), are sensors for DNA damage. In humans, ATM is mutated in patients with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), resulting in hypersensitivity to ionizing radiation (IR) and increased cancer susceptibility. Cells from A-T patients exhibit chromosome aberrations and excessive spontaneous apoptosis. We used Drosophila as a model system to study ATM function. Previous studies suggest that mei-41 corresponds to ATM in Drosophila; however, it appears that mei-41 is probably the ATR ortholog. Unlike mei-41 mutants, flies deficient for the true ATM ortholog, dATM, die as pupae or eclose with eye and wing abnormalities. Developing larval discs exhibit substantially increased spontaneous chromosomal telomere fusions and p53-dependent apoptosis. These developmental phenotypes are unique to dATM, and both dATM and mei-41 have temporally distinct roles in G2 arrest after IR. Thus, ATM and ATR orthologs are required for different functions in Drosophila; the developmental defects resulting from absence of dATM suggest an important role in mediating a protective checkpoint against DNA damage arising during normal cell proliferation and differentiation.
The two geohelminths, Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichiura, infect more than a billion people worldwide but are only reported sporadically in the developed part of the world. In contrast, the closely related species A. suum and T. suis in pigs have a truly global distribution, with infected pigs found in most production systems. In areas where pigs and humans live in close proximity or where pig manure is used as fertilizer on vegetables for human consumption, there is a potential risk of cross-infections. We therefore review this relationship between Ascaris and Trichuris in the human and pig host, with special focus on recent evidence concerning the zoonotic potential of these parasites, and identify some open questions for future research.
The establishment of a national control programme (NCP) in Uganda has led to routine treatment of intestinal schistosomiasis with praziquantel in the communities along Lake Albert. However, because regular water contact remains a way of life for these populations, re-infection continues to mitigate the sustainability of the chemotherapy-based programme. A six-month longitudinal study was conducted in one Lake Albert community with the aim of characterizing water contact exposure and infection among mothers and their young preschool-aged children as the latter are not yet formally included within the NCP. At baseline the cohort of 37 mothers, 36 preschool-aged children had infection prevalences of 62% and 67%, respectively, which diminished to 20% and 29%, respectively, at the 6-month post-treatment follow-up. The subjects wore global positioning system (GPS) datalogging devices over a 3-day period shortly after baseline, allowing for the estimation of time spent at the lakeshore as an exposure metric, which was found to be associated with prevalence at follow-up (OR = 2.1, P = 0.01 for both mothers and young children and odds ratio (OR) = 4.4, P = 0.01 for young children alone). A social network of interpersonal interactions was also derived from the GPS data, and the exposures were positively associated both with the number and duration of peer interaction, suggesting the importance of socio-cultural factors associated with water contact behaviour. The findings illustrate reduction in both prevalence and intensity of infection in this community after treatment as well as remarkably high rates of water contact exposure and re-infection, particularly among younger children. We believe that this should now be formally considered within NCP, which may benefit from more in-depth ethnographic exploration of factors related to water contact as this should provide new opportunities for sustaining control.
To facilitate administration of praziquantel (PZQ) to African infants and preschool-aged children using a dose pole, the performance of two downwardly extended versions (the first created in 2010 using biometric data from Uganda alone and the second version created here using data from 36 countries) was assessed against height/weight data from a total of 166 210 preschool-aged children (≤6 year olds) from 36 African countries. New and optimized thresholds for PZQ tablet administration at one tablet (600 mg), ¾ and ½ tablet divisions are suggested here. Both dose poles investigated estimated an acceptable PZQ dosage (30-60 mg/Kg) for more than 95% of children. Extension and optimization of the current PZQ dose pole, followed by theoretical validation using biometric data from preschool-aged children (0-6 years of age, 60-110 cm in height) from 36 African countries will help future mass drug administration campaigns incorporate younger children. This newly optimized dose pole with single 600 mg (height: 99-110 cm), ¾ (height: 83-99 cm) and ½ (height: 66-83 cm) tablet divisions, also reduces drug waste and facilitates inclusion of preschool-aged children. Our findings also have bearings on the use of other dose poles for treatment of young children.
In large-scale interventions for control of schistosomiasis, use of the WHO dose pole is favoured for mass drug administration of praziquantel. Application of this simple tool has enabled pragmatic tablet dosing using patient height as a proxy for bodyweight, allowing control programmes to expand into resource-poor settings. Here we briefly summarize the inception and development of the existing WHO dose pole and discuss a proposed update which now permits dosing of infants and preschool children (height
Despite treatment with praziquantel (PZQ) at 40 mg/kg in food, several chimpanzees on Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary (NICS) continue to excrete eggs of Schistosoma mansoni. To monitor disease, 8 animals were closely examined under anaesthesia in March 2011 with portable ultrasonography and by rectal snip biopsy. Schistosome genetic diversity had been previously assayed within 4 of these chimpanzees, finding extensive diversity with 27 DNA barcodes encountered, although none was common to all animals. Calcified schistosome eggs were found in the rectal snips from 5 chimpanzees and liver fibrosis was clearly documented, indicative of progressive disease in 6 animals, the latter being surprisingly advanced in a younger chimpanzee. All 8 animals were treated under anaesthesia by oral gavage with PZQ at 60 mg/kg dosing that was well tolerated. These animals were again re-examined in June 2012 using stool and urine sampling. Only 1 chimpanzee appeared to be free from infection and active egg excretion was confirmed in 6 animals. If intestinal schistosomiasis is to be controlled within this setting, a long-term disease management plan is required which should combine active case-detection with an insistent treatment regime with praziquantel for these chimpanzees, exploring perhaps the performance of even higher dosing.
Although asymptomatic carriage of human malaria species has been widely reported, the extent of asymptomatic, submicroscopic Plasmodium knowlesi parasitemia is unknown. In this study, samples were obtained from individuals residing in households or villages of symptomatic malaria cases with the aim of detecting submicroscopic P. knowlesi in this population. Four published molecular assays were used to confirm the presence of P. knowlesi. Latent class analysis revealed that the estimated proportion of asymptomatic individuals was 6.9% (95% confidence interval, 5.6%-8.4%). This study confirms the presence of a substantial number of asymptomatic monoinfections across all age groups; further work is needed to estimate prevalence in the wider community.
The field of parasitism is broad, encompassing relationships between organisms where one benefits at the expense of another. Traditionally the discipline focuses on eukaryotes, with the study of bacteria and viruses complementary but distinct. Nonetheless, parasites vary in size and complexity from single celled protozoa, to enormous plants like those in the genus Rafflesia. Lifecycles range from obligate intracellular to extensive exoparasitism. Examples of parasites include high profile medical and zoonotic pathogens such as Plasmodium, veterinary pathogens of wild and captive animals and many of the agents which cause neglected tropical diseases, stretching to parasites which infect plants and other parasites (e.g. (Blake et al., 2015; Hemingway, 2015; Hotez et al., 2014; Kikuchi et al., 2011; Meekums et al., 2015; Sandlund et al., 2015). The breadth of parasitology has been matched by the variety of ways in which parasites are studied, drawing upon biological, chemical, molecular, epidemiological and other expertise. Despite such breadth bridging between disciplines has commonly been problematic, regardless of extensive encouragement from government agencies, peer audiences and funding bodies promoting multi-disciplinary research. Now, progress in understanding and collaboration can benefit from establishment of the One Health concept (Stark et al., 2015; Zinsstag et al., 2012). One Health draws upon biological, environmental, medical, veterinary and social science disciplines in order to improve human, animal and environmental health, although it remains tantalizingly difficult to engage many relevant parties. For infectious diseases traditional divides have been exacerbated as the importance of wildlife reservoirs, climate change, food production systems and socio-economic diversity have been recognised but often not addressed in a multi-disciplinary manner. In response the 2015 Autumn Symposium organized by the British Society for Parasitology (BSP; https://www.bsp.uk.net/home/) was focused on One Health, running under the title ‘One Health: parasites and beyond…’. The meeting, held at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in Camden, London from September 14th to 15th, drew upon a blend of specialist parasitology reinforced with additional complementary expertise. Scientists, advocates, policy makers and industry representatives were invited to present at the meeting, promoting and developing One Health understanding with relevance to parasitology. The decision to widen the scope of the meeting to non-parasitological, but informative topics, is reflected in the diversity of the articles included in this special issue. A key feature of the meeting was encouragement of early career scientists, with more than 35% of the delegates registered as students and 25 posters.
Intestinal helminths are extremely widespread and highly prevalent infections of humans, particularly in rural and poor urban areas of low and middle-income countries. These parasites have chronic and often insidious effects on human health and child development including abdominal problems, anaemia, stunting and wasting. Certain animals play a fundamental role in the transmission of many intestinal helminths to humans. However, the contribution of zoonotic transmission to the overall burden of human intestinal helminth infection and the relative importance of different animal reservoirs remains incomplete. Moreover, control programmes and transmission models for intestinal helminths often do not consider the role of zoonotic reservoirs of infection. Such reservoirs will become increasingly important as control is scaled up and there is a move towards interruption and even elimination of parasite transmission. With a focus on southeast Asia, and the Philippines in particular, this review summarises the major zoonotic intestinal helminths, risk factors for infection and highlights knowledge gaps related to their epidemiology and transmission. Various methodologies are discussed, including parasite genomics, mathematical modelling and socio-economic analysis, that could be employed to improve understanding of intestinal helminth spread, reservoir attribution and the burden associated with infection, as well as assess effectiveness of interventions. For sustainable control and ultimately elimination of intestinal helminths, there is a need to move beyond scheduled mass deworming and to consider animal and environmental reservoirs. A One Health approach to control of intestinal helminths is proposed, integrating interventions targeting humans, animals and the environment, including improved access to water, hygiene and sanitation. This will require coordination and collaboration across different sectors to achieve best health outcomes for all.
The Rho GTPases interact with multiple downstream effectors to exert their biological functions, which include important roles in tissue morphogenesis during the development of multicellular organisms. Among the Rho effectors are the protein kinase N (PKN) proteins, which are protein kinase C (PKC)-like kinases that bind activated Rho GTPases. The PKN proteins are well conserved evolutionarily, but their biological role in any organism is poorly understood. We previously determined that the single Drosophila ortholog of mammalian PKN proteins, Pkn, is a Rho/Rac-binding kinase essential for Drosophila development. By performing "rescue" studies with various Pkn mutant constructs, we have defined the domains of Pkn required for its role during Drosophila development. These studies suggested that Rho, but not Rac binding is important for Pkn function in development. In addition, we determined that the kinase domain of PKC53E, a PKC family kinase, can functionally substitute for the kinase domain of Pkn during development, thereby exemplifying the evolutionary strategy of "combining" functional domains to produce proteins with distinct biological activities. Interestingly, we also identified a requirement for Pkn in wing morphogenesis, thereby revealing the first postembryonic function for Pkn.
The ability of epithelial cells to polarize requires cell-cell adhesion mediated by cadherin receptors. During cell-cell contact, the mechanism via which a flat, spread cell shape is changed into a tall, cuboidal epithelial morphology is not known. We found that cadherin-dependent adhesion modulates actin dynamics by triggering changes in actin organization both locally at junctions and within the rest of the cell. Upon induction of cell-cell contacts, two spatial actin populations are distinguishable: junctional actin and peripheral thin bundles. With time, the relative position of these two populations changes and becomes indistinguishable to form a cortical actin ring that is characteristic of mature, fully polarized epithelial cells. Junctional actin and thin actin bundles differ in their actin dynamics and mechanism of formation, and interestingly, have distinct roles during epithelial polarization. Whereas junctional actin stabilizes clustered cadherin receptors at cell-cell contacts, contraction of peripheral actin bundle is essential for an increase in the maximum height at the lateral domain during polarization (cuboidal morphology). Thus, both junctional actin and thin bundles are necessary, and cooperate with each other to generate a polarized epithelial morphology.
Tumor progression involves the transition from normal to malignant cells, through a series of cumulative alterations. During this process, invasive and migratory properties are acquired, enabling cells to metastasize (reach and grow in tissues far from their origin). Numerous cellular changes take place during epithelial malignancy, and disruption of E-cadherin based cell-cell adhesion is a major event. The small Rho GTPases (Rho, Rac and Cdc42) have been implicated in multiple steps during cellular transformation, including alterations on the adhesion status of the tumor cells. This review focuses on recent in vivo evidence that implicates RhoGTPases in epithelial tumor progression. In addition, we discuss different hypotheses to explain disruption of cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion, directly or indirectly, through activation of Rho GTPases. Understanding the molecular mechanism of how cadherin adhesion and RhoGTPases interplay in normal cells and how this balance is altered during cellular transformation will provide clues as to how to interfere with tumor progression.
Cell-cell adhesive events affect cell growth and fate decisions and provide spatial clues for cell polarity within tissues. The complete molecular determinants required for adhesive junction formation and their function are not completely understood. LIM domain-containing proteins have been shown to be present at cell-cell contact sites and are known to shuttle into the nucleus where they can affect cell fate and growth; however, their precise localization at cell-cell contacts, how they localize to these sites, and what their functions are at these sites is unknown. Here we show that, in primary keratinocytes, the LIM domain protein Ajuba is recruited to cadherin-dependent cell-cell adhesive complexes in a regulated manner. At cadherin adhesive complexes Ajuba interacts with alpha-catenin, and alpha-catenin is required for efficient recruitment of Ajuba to cell junctions. Ajuba also interacts directly with F-actin. Keratinocytes from Ajuba null mice exhibit abnormal cell-cell junction formation and/or stability and function. These data reveal Ajuba as a new component at cadherin-mediated cell-cell junctions and suggest that Ajuba may contribute to the bridging of the cadherin adhesive complexes to the actin cytoskeleton and as such contribute to the formation or strengthening of cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion.
As part of a longitudinal cohort investigation of intestinal schistosomiasis and malaria in Ugandan children and their mothers on the shorelines of Lakes Victoria and Albert, we documented risk factors and morbidity associated with nonfalciparum Plasmodium infections and the longitudinal dynamics of Plasmodium species in children. Host age, household location, and Plasmodium falciparum infection were strongly associated with nonfalciparum Plasmodium infections, and Plasmodium malariae infection was associated with splenomegaly. Despite regular artemisinin combination therapy treatment, there was a 3-fold rise in P. malariae prevalence, which was not accountable for by increasing age of the child. Worryingly, our findings reveal the consistent emergence of nonfalciparum infections in children, highlighting the complex dynamics underlying multispecies infections here. Given the growing body of evidence that nonfalciparum malaria infections cause significant morbidity, we encourage better surveillance for nonfalciparum Plasmodium infections, particularly in children, with more sensitive DNA detection methods and improved field-based diagnostics.
To achieve strong adhesion to their neighbors and sustain stress and tension, epithelial cells develop many different specialized adhesive structures. Breakdown of these structures occurs during tumor progression, with the development of a fibroblastic morphology characteristic of metastatic cells. During Ras transformation, Rac-signaling pathways participate in the disruption of cadherin-dependent adhesion. We show that sustained Rac activation per se is sufficient to disassemble cadherin-mediated contacts in keratinocytes, in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. Cadherin receptors are removed from junctions before integrin receptors, suggesting that pathways activated by Rac can specifically interfere with cadherin function. We mapped an important region for disruption of junctions to the putative second effector domain of the Rac protein. Interestingly, although this region overlaps the domain necessary to induce lamellipodia, we demonstrate that the disassembly of cadherin complexes is a new Rac activity, distinct from Rac-dependent lamellipodia formation. Because Rac activity is also necessary for migration, Rac is a good candidate to coordinately regulate cell-cell and cell-substratum adhesion during tumorigenesis.
•Summary of the methods currently available for the detection of antimalarial drug resistance within blood samples of human patients.•No single method is perfect for every application, many newly developed methods give promise for a more reliable and efficient characterisation of a Plasmodium resistance.•Deeper understanding of the evolutionary and spaciotemporal dynamics of this disease. Malaria is the world's deadliest parasitic disease. Great progress has been made in the fight against malaria over the past two decades, but this has recently begun to plateau, in part due to the global development of antimalarial drug resistance. The ability to track drug resistance is necessary to achieve progress in treatment, disease surveillance and epidemiology, which has prompted the development of advanced diagnostic methods. These new methods provide unprecedented access to information that can help to guide public health policies. Development of new technologies increases the potential for high throughput and reduced costs of diagnostic tests; improving the accessibility of tools to investigate the forces driving disease dynamics and, ultimately, clinical outcomes for malaria patients and public health. This literature review provides a summary of the methods currently available for the detection of antimalarial drug resistance from the examination of patients’ blood samples. While no single method is perfect for every application, many of the newly developed methods give promise for more reliable and efficient characterisation of Plasmodium resistance in a range of settings. By exploiting the strengths of the tools available, we can develop a deeper understanding of the evolutionary and spatiotemporal dynamics of this disease. This will translate into more effective disease control, better-informed policy, and more timely and successful treatment for malaria patients.
Chimpanzees in the Copenhagen Zoo frequently excrete ascarid worms onto the cage floor in spite of a regular anthelmintic treatment program. Previously it had been shown that the source of the infections was of pig origin. However, it was unknown whether the recurrence of the infection was due to reintroduction of eggs from an external source or to a sustained transmission cycle within the zoo. We found that isolated eggs were able to embryonate to the infective J3 stage and PCR-RFLP analysis on the ITS region amplified from single embryonated eggs suggest these to be Ascaris suum. In addition, sequence analysis of the cox1 gene ('barcoding') on expelled worms followed by cluster analysis revealed that the chimpanzees are infected with pig A. suum which now, in spite of control efforts, has stabilized into a permanent transmission cycle in the zoo's chimpanzee troop.
It has been proposed that ovale malaria in humans is caused by two closely related but distinct species of malaria parasite, Plasmodium ovale curtisi and Plasmodium ovale wallikeri. It was recently shown that these two parasite types are sympatric at the country level. However, it remains possible that localised geographic, temporal or ecological barriers exist within endemic countries which prevent recombination between the genomes of the two species. Here, using conventional and real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods specifically designed to discriminate P. o. curtisi and P. o. wallikeri, it is shown that both species are present among clinic attendees in Congo-Brazzaville, and occur simultaneously both in lake-side and inland districts in Uganda and on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Thus P. o. curtisi and P. o. wallikeri in these localities are exactly sympatric in both time and space. These findings are consistent with the existence of a biological barrier, rather than geographical or ecological factors, preventing recombination between P. o. curtisi and P. o. wallikeri. In cross-sectional surveys carried out in Uganda and Bioko, our results show that infections with P. ovale spp. are more common than previously thought, occurring at a frequency of 1-6% in population samples, with both proposed species contributing to ovale malaria in six sites. Malaria elimination programmes in Africa need to include strategies for control of P. o. curtisi and P. o. wallikeri.
To shed light on the epidemiology of ascariasis in Ecuador and Zanzibar, 177 adult worms retrieved by chemo-expulsion from either people or pigs were collected, measured and subjected to polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region. Upon double digestion with RsaI and HaeIII, PCR-RFLP analysis revealed the presence of A. lumbricoides in people and A. suum in pigs in Ecuador. In contrast, while there are no pigs on Zanzibar, of the 56 worms obtained from people, one was genotyped as A. suum. No additional genetic variation was detected upon further PCR-RFLP analysis with several other restriction enzymes. Upon measurement, worm mass and length differed by location and by species, A. suum being lighter and longer. While there is no evidence to suggest zoonotic transmission in Ecuador, an enduring historical signature of previous zoonotic transmission remains on Zanzibar.
The Rho-kinases are widely utilized downstream targets of the activated Rho GTPase that have been directly implicated in many aspects of Rho-dependent effects on F-actin assembly, acto-myosin contractility, and microtubule stability, and consequently play an essential role in regulating cell shape, migration, polarity, and division. We have determined that the single closely related Drosophila Rho-kinase ortholog, DRok, is required for several aspects of oogenesis, including maintaining the integrity of the oocyte cortex, actin-mediated tethering of nurse cell nuclei, "dumping" of nurse cell contents into the oocyte, establishment of oocyte polarity, and the trafficking of oocyte yolk granules. These defects are associated with abnormalities in DRok-dependent actin dynamics and appear to be mediated by multiple downstream effectors of activated DRok that have previously been implicated in oogenesis. DRok regulates at least one of these targets, the membrane cytoskeletal cross-linker DMoesin, via a direct phosphorylation that is required to promote localization of DMoesin to the oocyte cortex. The collective oogenesis defects associated with DRok deficiency reveal its essential role in multiple aspects of proper oocyte formation and suggest that DRok defines a novel class of oogenesis determinants that function as key regulators of several distinct actin-dependent processes required for proper tissue morphogenesis.
Ascariasis is of public health importance on the islands of Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba). To shed light on the molecular epidemiology of this parasite, 68 Ascaris worms, obtained from 14 individuals in four Ungujan villages, were examined by isoenzyme analysis (ISA), DNA barcoding and microsatellite DNA profiling. ISA revealed genetic variation, which was confirmed by DNA barcoding. Nineteen worms recovered from individuals in Uganda were included for comparison. Sixteen unique DNA barcodes were identified, 15 on Unguja and three in Uganda with two shared between. These two barcodes were found in all four Ungujan villages. Worms from Tumbatu-Jongowe, an isolated village on an islet off Unguja, seemed particularly diverse. Within our barcodes, three exact matches were found with Chinese Ascaris retrieved from pigs, which is perhaps surprising given the present rarity of these animals on Unguja. Microsatellite profiling and population genetic analysis revealed further genetic diversity within our samples although population sub-structuring within Unguja was minor in comparison to that between Unguja and Uganda. As African Ascaris has not been subjected to detailed molecular scrutiny, this new diversity represents an important piece in its evolutionary jigsaw and such population markers are informative in monitoring worm dynamics during ongoing control.
Previously published reports support the concept that, besides promoting homotypic intercellular adhesion, cadherins may transfer intracellular signals. However, the signaling pathways triggered by cadherin clustering and their biological significance are still poorly understood. We report herein that transfection of VE-cadherin (VEC) cDNA in VEC null endothelial cells induces actin rearrangement and increases the number of vinculin positive adhesion plaques. VEC expression augments the level of active Rac but decreases active Rho. Microinjection of a dominant negative Rac mutant altered stress fiber organization, whereas inhibition of Rho was ineffective. VEC expression increased protein and mRNA levels of the Rac-specific guanosine exchange factor Tiam-1 and induced its localization at intercellular junctions. In addition, in the presence of VEC, the amounts of Tiam, Rac, and the Rac effector PAK as well as the level of PAK phosphorylation were found increased in the membrane/cytoskeletal fraction. These observations are consistent with a role of VEC in localizing Rac and its signaling partners in the same membrane compartment, facilitating their reciprocal interaction. Through this mechanism VEC may influence the constitutive organization of the actin cytoskeleton.
The Ugandan national control programme for schistosomiasis has no clear policy for inclusion of preschool-children (
Ascaris lumbricoides and A. suum are two parasitic nematodes infecting humans and pigs, respectively. There has been considerable debate as to whether Ascaris in the two hosts should be considered a single or two separate species. Previous studies identified at least three major clusters (A, B and C) of human and pig Ascaris based on partial cox1 sequences. In the present study, we selected major haplotypes from these different clusters to characterize their whole mitochondrial genomes for phylogenetic analysis. We also undertook coalescent simulations to investigate the evolutionary history of the different Ascaris haplotypes. The topology of the phylogenetic tree based on complete mitochondrial genomic sequences was found to be similar to partial cox1 sequencing, but the support at internal nodes was higher in the former. Coalescent simulations suggested the presence of at least two divergence events: the first one occurring early in the Neolithic period which resulted in a differentiated population of Ascaris in pigs (cluster C), the second occurring more recently (~900 generations ago), resulting in clusters A and B which might have been spread worldwide by human activities.
HIV/AIDS and schistosomiasis both cause a substantial disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa and the two diseases often overlap in their epidemiological characteristics. Although disease-specific control interventions are continuing, potential synergies in the control efforts for these two diseases have not been investigated. With a focus on children with schistosomiasis, we assess the risk for increased HIV transmission, HIV progression, and impaired response to drugs when given alongside HIV interventions. A new research agenda tailored to children is needed to better understand the interactions of these two diseases and the potential for combined responses.
BACKGROUND: Trichuris suis and T. trichiura are two different whipworm species that infect pigs and humans, respectively. T. suis is found in pigs worldwide while T. trichiura is responsible for nearly 460 million infections in people, mainly in areas of poor sanitation in tropical and subtropical areas. The evolutionary relationship and the historical factors responsible for this worldwide distribution are poorly understood. In this study, we aimed to reconstruct the demographic history of Trichuris in humans and pigs, the evolutionary origin of Trichuris in these hosts and factors responsible for parasite dispersal globally. METHODS: Parts of the mitochondrial nad1 and rrnL genes were sequenced followed by population genetic and phylogenetic analyses. Populations of Trichuris examined were recovered from humans (n = 31), pigs (n = 58) and non-human primates (n = 49) in different countries on different continents, namely Denmark, USA, Uganda, Ecuador, China and St. Kitts (Caribbean). Additional sequences available from GenBank were incorporated into the analyses. RESULTS: We found no differentiation between human-derived Trichuris in Uganda and the majority of the Trichuris samples from non-human primates suggesting a common African origin of the parasite, which then was transmitted to Asia and further to South America. On the other hand, there was no differentiation between pig-derived Trichuris from Europe and the New World suggesting dispersal relates to human activities by transporting pigs and their parasites through colonisation and trade. Evidence for recent pig transport from China to Ecuador and from Europe to Uganda was also observed from their parasites. In contrast, there was high genetic differentiation between the pig Trichuris in Denmark and China in concordance with the host genetics. CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence for an African origin of T. trichiura which were then transmitted with human ancestors to Asia and further to South America. A host shift to pigs may have occurred in Asia from where T. suis seems to have been transmitted globally by a combination of natural host dispersal and anthropogenic factors.
Point-prevalence recording of the distribution of tropical parasitic diseases at village level is usually sufficient for general monitoring and surveillance. Whilst within-village spatial patterning of diseases exists, and can be important, mapping infected cases in a household-by-household setting is arduous and time consuming. With the development of low-cost GPS-data loggers (< £40) and available GoogleEarth(TM) satellite imagery, we present a field-applicable method based on crowdsourcing for rapid identification of infected cases (intestinal schistosomiasis, malaria and hookworm) by household. A total of 126 mothers with their 247 preschool children from Bukoba village (Mayuge District, Uganda) were examined with half of these mothers given a GPS-data logger to walk home with, returning the unit the same day for data off-loading, after which, households were assigned GPS coordinates. A satellite image of Bukoba was annotated with households denoting the infection status of each mother and child. General prevalence of intestinal schistosomiasis, malaria and hookworm in mothers and children was: 27.2 vs 7.7%, 28.6 vs 87.0% and 60.0 vs 22.3%, respectively. Different spatial patterns of disease could be identified likely representing the intrinsic differences in parasite biology and interplay with human behaviour(s) across this local landscape providing a better insight into reasons for disease micro-patterning.
The occurrence of schistosomiasis within African infants and preschool children has been much better documented in recent years, revealing an important burden of disease previously overlooked. Despite mounting evidence showing that treatment with praziquantel is safe, beneficial, and could be delivered within ongoing public health interventions, young children still do not have satisfactory access to this drug, and a significant treatment gap exists. Progress towards resolution of this unfortunate health inequity is highlighted, including the development of an appropriate paediatric praziquantel formulation, and present blocks are identified on securing this issue within the international health agenda.
Anaemia is a severe public health issue among African preschool-aged children, yet little effective progress has been made towards its amelioration, in part due to difficulties in unravelling its complex, multifactorial aetiology. To determine the current anaemia situation and assess the relative contribution of malaria, intestinal schistosomiasis and infection with soil-transmitted helminths, two separate cross-sectional epidemiological surveys were carried out in Uganda including 573 and 455 preschool-aged children (≤6 years) living along the shores of Lake Albert and on the islands in Lake Victoria, respectively. Anaemia was found to be a severe public health problem in Lake Albert, affecting 68·9% of children (ninety-five percent confidence intervals (95% CI) 64·9-72·7%), a statistically significant higher prevalence relative to the 27·3% detected in Lake Victoria (95% CI: 23·3-31·7%). After multivariate analysis (controlling for sex and age of the child), the only factor found to be significantly associated with increased odds of anaemia in both lake systems was malaria (Lake Albert, odds ratio (OR)=2·1, 95% CI: 1·4-3·2; Lake Victoria, OR=1·9, 95% CI: 1·2-2·9). Thus intervention strategies primarily focusing on very young children and combating malaria appear to represent the most appropriate use of human and financial resources for the prevention of anaemia in this age group and area. Looking to the future, these activities could be further emphasised within the National Child Health Days(PLUS) agenda.
BACKGROUND: Intestinal schistosomiasis, caused by Schistosoma mansoni, is endemic to Lake Victoria, with high prevalence of the disease observed in human lakeshore communities. However, nonhuman primates have recently been overlooked as potential hosts of the disease, despite known susceptibility. METHODS: Using a variety of stool, urine, and serological diagnostic methods, 39 semi-captive wild-born chimpanzees and 37 staff members at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Lake Victoria, Uganda, were examined for S. mansoni infection. Miracidia recovered from stool were DNA barcoded to investigate cross-over between humans and chimpanzees. The island was also surveyed for Biomphalaria intermediate host snails, which were examined for infection with S. mansoni. RESULTS: Chimpanzees were unequivocally shown to be infected with intestinal schistosomiasis with a seroprevalence in excess of 90%. Three egg-positive cases were detected, although the sensitivity of the diagnostic tests varied due to earlier prophylactic praziquantel treatment. Miracidia hatched from chimpanzee stool revealed three DNA haplotypes commonly found in humans living throughout Lake Victoria, including staff on Ngamba Island, as well as two novel haplotypes. At one site, a snail was observed shedding schistosome cercariae. CONCLUSIONS: The anthropozoonotic potential of intestinal schistosomiasis on Ngamba Island is greater than previously thought. Moreover, the ability of chimpanzees to void schistosome eggs capable of hatching into viable miracidia further suggests that these nonhuman primates may be capable of maintaining a local zoonotic transmission of schistosomiasis independently of humans. The implications for management of captive and wild primate populations at risk of exposure are discussed.
Within the World Health Organization 2012-2020 roadmap for control and elimination of schistosomiasis, the scale-up of mass drug administration with praziquantel is set to change the epidemiological landscape across Africa and Arabia. Central in measuring progress is renewed emphasis upon diagnostics which operate at individual, community and environmental levels by assessing reductions in disease, infections and parasite transmission. However, a fundamental tension is revealed between levels for present diagnostic tools, and methods applied in control settings are not necessarily adequate for application in elimination scenarios. Indeed navigating the transition from control to elimination needs careful consideration and planning. In the present context of control, we review current options for diagnosis of schistosomiasis at different levels, highlighting several strengths and weaknesses therein. Future challenges in elimination are raised and we propose that more cost-effective diagnostics and clinical staging algorithms are needed. Using the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a contemporary example, embedding new diagnostic methods within the primary care health system is discussed with reference to both urogenital and intestinal schistosomiasis.
Potential options for mitigating phosphorus (P) transfer from agriculture to water in England and Wales (E&W) were collated across a range of farm systems to assess their potential effectiveness in reducing mass of P transferred and potential cost (pounds sterling [ pound]) to the farming industry. A simple model framework (called PEASE) incorporating a number of assumptions was used to identify 15 methods for mitigating inputs of P to agricultural systems, 19 methods for preventing mobilization of P, and six methods for controlling the transport of P to streams. The scope for largest reductions in P inputs was to grassland and horticulture. Potential reductions in P mobilization were up to 1.2 kg P ha(-1). Reductions in P transfer associated with transport mitigation were larger than those associated with input and mobilization methods (up to 2.2 kg P ha(-1)). The largest estimated reductions were achieved by installing buffer zones and constructed wetlands, the former being very cost effective ( pound3-5 kg(-1) P saved). Plots of cost curves helped identify where the combined and cumulative P transfer reductions were attainable; these were approximately 0.2 kg ha(-1) for uplands, 0.6 kg ha(-1) for outdoor pigs, 0.9 kg ha(-1) for intensive dairy, and 2.2 kg ha(-1) for arable examples. We concluded that established catchment-scale evidence for mitigation is sparse, especially for specific farm systems in E&W. Sensitivities and uncertainties in the approach, especially associated with expert coefficients, are noted. This approach is nonetheless considered useful for prioritizing where and how best options might be most effectively targeted for least cost but greatest benefit.
Following our previous field surveys for strongyloidiasis in western Uganda, 120 mothers and 232 children from four villages in eastern Uganda were examined, with two subsequent investigative follow-ups. As before, a variety of diagnostic methods were used: Baermann concentration, Koga agar plate and strongyloidid enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), as well as Kato-Katz faecal smears for detection of eggs of other helminths. At baseline, the general prevalence of Strongyloides stercoralis was moderate: 5.4% as estimated by Baermann and Koga agar methods combined. A much higher estimate was found by ELISA (42.3%) which, in this eastern setting, appeared to be confounded by putative cross-reaction(s) with other nematode infections. Preventive chemotherapy using praziquantel and albendazole was offered to all participants at baseline. After 21 days the first follow-up was conducted and 'cure rates' were calculated for all parasites encountered. Eleven months later, the second follow-up assessed longer-term trends. Initial treatments had little, if any, effect on S. stercoralis, and did not alter local prevalence, unlike hookworm infections and intestinal schistosomiasis. We propose that geographical patterns of strongyloidiasis are likely not perturbed by ongoing praziquantel/albendazole campaigns. Antibody titres increased after the first follow-up then regressed towards baseline levels upon second inspection. To better define endemic areas for S. stercoralis, careful interpretation of the ELISA is warranted, especially where diagnosis is likely being confounded by polyparasitism and/or other treatment regimens; new molecular screening tools are clearly needed.
Several DNA probes were designed for use in real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays to target sequence variation within the ribosomal intergenic spacer (IGS) of schistosomes. A sub-section of the IGS (∼300bp) was amplified, with cross-specific primers, after which group-specific fluorescent, locked nucleic acid probes were assessed for their ability to differentiate and quantify DNA from Schistosoma haematobium and Schistosoma mansoni group parasites. A number of fluorescent probe candidates were screened and validated against genomic DNA from adult schistosome worms and laboratory infected freshwater snails. Two fluorescent, locked nucleic acid probes ShaemLNA5 and SmanLNA2, of 20-26bp in length, were identified and found to be effective in providing evidence of infection in field-collected snails. To adapt these real-time PCR assays for more resource-poor laboratory settings, a PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) assay was developed and primer/probe combinations were modified for use in oligochromatography, a DNA 'dipstick' technology. An appropriate dipstick was developed, inclusive of internal amplification and amplicon migration controls that could be of particular importance for assessing schistosome transmission dynamics. These assays and tools also have future potential for use in detection of schistosome infections in humans and livestock.
Significant numbers of pre-school children are infected with Schistosoma mansoni in sub-Saharan Africa and are likely to play a role in parasite transmission. However, they are currently excluded from control programmes. Molecular phylogenetic studies have provided insights into the evolutionary origins and transmission dynamics of S. mansoni, but there has been no research into schistosome molecular epidemiology in pre-school children. Here, we investigated the genetic diversity and population structure of S. mansoni in pre-school children and mothers living in lakeshore communities in Uganda and monitored for changes over time after praziquantel treatment. Parasites were sampled from children (
BACKGROUND: In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of malaria parasitemia in blood donors varies from 0.6% to 50%. Although the burden of TTM in malaria-endemic countries is unknown, it is recommended that all donated blood is screened for malaria parasites. This study aimed to establish the incidence of TTM and identify a suitable screening test. METHODS: Pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised malaria-negative transfusion recipients in a teaching hospital in Ghana were recruited over the course of 1 year. Parasites detected in recipients within 14 days of the transfusion were genotyped and compared to parasites in the transfused blood. The presence of genotypically identical parasites in the recipient and the transfused blood confirmed transfusion-transmitted malaria. Four malaria screening tests were compared to assess their usefulness in the context of African blood banks. RESULTS: Of the 50 patients who received transfusions that were positive for Plasmodium falciparum by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), 7 recipients developed PCR-detectable parasitemia. In only 1 of the 50 recipients (2%) was the parasite identical to that in the transfused blood. The prevalence of P. falciparum malaria in transfused blood was 4.7% (21/445) by microscopy, 13.7% (60/440) by rapid diagnostic test, 18% (78/436) by PCR, and 22.2% (98/442) by enzyme immunoassay. CONCLUSIONS: Although malaria parasites are commonly detected in blood donors in malaria-endemic areas, transfusion-transmitted malaria occurs infrequently. Policies recommend screening blood donors for malaria, but none of the commonly used methods is sufficiently sensitive to be used by blood banks in malaria-endemic countries.
Surrey, a county in southern England, is a hot spot for angiostrongylosis in domestic dogs but there have been no investigations into the intermediate hosts of Angiostrongylus vasorum in this area. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of A. vasorum in gastropods in Guildford, the most populous town in Surrey, and to ascertain which gastropod species can act as intermediate hosts for A. vasorum. Gastropods (n=97) were sampled in six locations, representing urban, suburban and rural environments and identified to species based on morphological features. A PCR assay was used to detect A. vasorum DNA in gastropod tissue and the species of infected specimens was confirmed by sequencing of mitochondrial genes. 4.1% (4/97) of sampled gastropods and 9.1% (4/44) of sampled slugs were A. vasorum positive. Infected gastropod species were Arion rufus (n=3) and Deroceras invadens (n=1), the first description of the latter species as a potential intermediate host for A. vasorum. Two infected slugs were sampled in urban environments and two in suburban environments. The results demonstrate that there is a risk of transmission of A. vasorum to domestic dogs from the gastropod population in urban and suburban areas of Guildford.
Despite the common occurrence of ascariasis in southwestern Uganda, helminth control in the region has been limited. To gain further insights into the genetic diversity of Ascaris in this area, a parasitological survey in mothers (n=41) and children (n=74) living in two villages, Habutobere and Musezero, was carried out. Adult Ascaris worms were collected from infected individuals by chemo-expulsion using pyrantel pamoate treatment. Genetic diversity within these worms was assessed by inspection of DNA sequence variation in a mitochondrial marker and length polymorphism at microsatellite loci. Overall prevalence of ascariasis was 42.5% in mothers and 30.4% in their children and a total of 98 worms was examined from 18 hosts. Sequence analysis of a portion of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 gene revealed 19 different haplotypes, 13 of which had not been previously encountered. Microsatellite analysis using eight loci provided evidence for high gene flow between worm populations from the two villages but comparing these worms with others obtained in a prior study on Unguja, Zanzibar, confirmed little genetic exchange and mixing of worm populations between the two areas. By adding to our understanding of the genetic diversity of Ascaris in Africa, this study provides useful information for monitoring changes in parasite population structure in the face of ongoing and future control.
BACKGROUND: Cell-cell adhesion and intracellular trafficking are regulated by signaling pathways from small GTPases of the Rho, Arf, and Rab subfamilies. How signaling from distinct small GTPases are integrated in a given process is poorly understood. RESULTS: We find that a TBC/RabGAP protein, Armus, integrates signaling between Arf6, Rac1, and Rab7 during junction disassembly. Armus binds specifically to activated Rac1 and its C-terminal TBC/RabGAP domain inactivates Rab7. Thus, Armus is a novel Rac1 effector and a bona fide GAP for Rab7 in vitro and in vivo, a unique and previously unreported combination. Arf6 activation efficiently disrupts cell-cell contacts and is known to activate Rac1 and Rab7. Arf6-induced E-cadherin degradation is efficiently blocked by expression of Armus C-terminal domain or after Armus RNAi. Coexpression of Arf6 with dominant-negative Rab7 or Rac1 also inhibits junction disassembly. Importantly, Armus RabGAP expression also prevents EGF-induced scattering in keratinocytes, a process shown here to require Arf6, Rac1, and Rab7 function. To our knowledge, this is the first report to demonstrate a molecular and functional link between Rac1 and Rab7. CONCLUSIONS: Our data indicate that active Rac1 recruits Armus to locally inactivate Rab7 and facilitate E-cadherin degradation in lysosomes. Thus, the integration of Rac1 and Rab7 activities by Armus provides an important regulatory node for E-cadherin turnover and stability of cell-cell contacts.
The Rho GTPases are critical regulators of the actin cytoskeleton and are required for cell adhesion, migration, and polarity. Among the key Rho regulatory proteins in the context of cell migration are the p190 RhoGAPs (p190A and p190B), which function to modulate Rho signaling in response to integrin engagement. The p190 RhoGAPs undergo complex regulation, including phosphorylation by several identified kinases, interactions with phospholipids, and association with a variety of cellular proteins. Here, we have identified an additional regulatory mechanism unique to p190A RhoGAP that involves priming-dependent phosphorylation by glycogen synthase-3-beta (GSK-3beta), a kinase previously implicated in establishing cell polarity. We found that p190A-deficient fibroblasts exhibit a defect in directional cell migration reflecting a requirement for GSK-3beta-mediated phosphorylation of amino acids in the C-terminal "tail" of p190A. This phosphorylation leads to inhibition of p190A RhoGAP activity in vitro and in vivo. These studies identify p190A as a novel GSK-3beta substrate and reveal a mechanism by which GSK-3beta contributes to cellular polarization in directionally migrating cells via effects on Rho GTPase activity.
The complexity and connectedness of eco-social processes have major influence on the emergence and spread of infectious diseases amongst humans and animals. The disciplinary nature of most research activity has made it difficult to improve our understanding of interactions and feedback loops within the relevant systems. Influenced by the One Health approach, increasing efforts have recently been made to address this knowledge gap. Disease emergence and spread is strongly influenced by host density and contact structures, pathogen characteristics and pathogen population and molecular evolutionary dynamics in different host species, and host response to infection. All these mechanisms are strongly influenced by eco-social processes, such as globalisation and urbanisation, which lead to changes in global ecosystem dynamics, including patterns of mobility, human population density and contact structures, and food production and consumption. An improved understanding of epidemiological and eco-social processes, including their interdependence, will be essential to be able to manage diseases in these circumstances. The interfaces between wild animals, domestic animals and humans need to be examined to identify the main risk pathways and put in place appropriate mitigation. Some recent examples of emerging infectious disease are described to illustrate eco-social processes that are influencing disease emergence and spread.
Cadherins are transmembrane receptors that mediate cell-cell adhesion. They play an essential role in embryonic development and maintenance of tissue architecture. The Rho family small GTPases regulate actin cytoskeletal dynamics in different cell types. The function of two family members, Rho and Rac, is required for the stability of cadherins at cell-cell contacts. Consistent with the published data we have found that Rac is activated upon induction of intercellular adhesion in epithelial cells. This activation is dependent on functional cadherins (Nakagawa, M., Fukata, M., Yamaga, M., Itoh, N., and Kaibuchi, K. (2001) J. Cell Sci. 114, 1829-1838; Noren, N. K., Niessen, C. M., Gumbiner, B. M., and Burridge, K. (2001) J. Biol. Chem. 276, 3305-3308). Here we show for the first time that clustering of cadherins using antibody-coated beads is sufficient to promote Rac activation. In the presence of Latrunculin B, Rac can be partially activated by antibody-clustered cadherins. These results suggest that actin polymerization is not required for initial Rac activation. Contrary to what has been described before, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinases are not involved in Rac activation following cell-cell adhesion in keratinocytes. Interestingly, inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor signaling efficiently blocks the increased Rac-GTP levels observed after contact formation. We conclude that cadherin-dependent adhesion can activate Rac via epidermal growth factor receptor signaling.