2 + 2 = 5

In the August 31st issue of Nature, there’s a short ‘picture story’ I wrote about a recent Cell paper from Lee et al. Those authors found that in Trypanosoma brucei (the parasite that causes African trypanosomiasis) the fatty acid myristate is not made by type I or type II fatty acid synthases, but is instead made by a series of enzymes called elongases. These enzymes extend the fatty acid chain, adding two carbon atoms at a time to a fatty acid that is attached to coenzyme A. Though more work is needed to explore how these enzymes function in vivo, the authors believe it may be possible to develop new anti-parasitic drugs that target these elongases.

According to the WHO/TDR, African trypanosomiasis (also known as ‘sleeping sickness’) affects 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and kills about 50,000 people each year. The TDR website says that “[t]reatment has always been difficult, especially when the disease has reached an advanced stage with central nervous system involvement, as few effective drugs are available.” So hopefully small-molecule inhibitors of these enzymes could be used to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with this disease.

If you’re interested in reading more about their discovery, please go check out the picture story and the Cell paper.


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)