Revealing a Parasite's Invasive Trick

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Science  22 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6041, pp. 410-411
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209875

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A favorite trick of amateur magicians is passing a needle through a balloon without it bursting. Apicomplexan parasites, a group of eukaryotic pathogens that includes the organisms that cause malaria and toxoplasmosis, achieve the equivalent of this sleight of hand. They actively enter a host cell and seal themselves within a vacuole without breaching the cell's structural integrity. At the heart of this process is the formation of a structure, known as the tight or moving junction, which creates a tight molecular seal between the host and parasite membranes. Researchers have begun to understand how the proteins that create the junction interact, and on page 463 of this issue, Tonkin et al. (1) provide detailed insight into the molecular basis of the junction's remarkable ability to withstand the shear forces that likely occur during invasion.