Social parasites

Trypanosoma brucei Social behaviors are most widely recognized in communication and cooperation observed in metazoans, ranging from navigation strategies and group hierarchies in insect communities to complex social networking in humans and other primates. However, communication and cooperation among individuals in a group also occurs at the cellular level, as illustrated in collective motility of migrating cells during wound healing, tissue morphogenesis and tumor metastases. Cell-cell communication and cooperative behavior is not restricted to higher animals and recent years have seen a surge in the study and understanding of social interactions and their underlying mechanisms in microbial systems.

Parasitic protozoa are etiologic agents of several major human maladies, including malaria, epidemic dysentery, Leishmaniasis and African sleeping sickness, that affect over half a billion people worldwide. Parasites also limit economic development in some of the poorest regions on the planet and are thus major contributors to the global human health and economic burden. Parasites have complex life cycles requiring transmission through multiple hosts, survival in diverse environments and a wide variety of cellular differentiation events. Hence there are numerous facets of parasite biology that may benefit from, or may even depend upon, social interactions. This review highlights recent work on social behavior in two well-studied parasites, Trypanosoma brucei that causes sleeping sickness and Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. In addition to uncovering underappreciated aspects of parasite biology, these studies illustrate the potential for sociomicrobiology concepts to advance understanding of the biology, transmission and pathogenesis of parasitic protozoa.


Social parasites. Curr Opin Microbiol. Oct 21 2011
Protozoan parasites cause tremendous human suffering worldwide, but strategies for therapeutic intervention are limited. Recent studies illustrate that the paradigm of microbes as social organisms can be brought to bear on questions about parasite biology, transmission and pathogenesis. This review discusses recent work demonstrating adaptation of social behaviors by parasitic protozoa that cause African sleeping sickness and malaria. The recognition of social behavior and cell-cell communication as a ubiquitous property of bacteria has transformed our view of microbiology, but protozoan parasites have not generally been considered in this context. Works discussed illustrate the potential for concepts of sociomicrobiology to provide insight into parasite biology and should stimulate new approaches for thinking about parasites and parasite-host interactions.

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