Schistosomiasis (also known as “snail fever”) is one of most devastating parasitic diseases affecting humankind. By most estimates, up to 10% of the people on Earth are infected by schistosome blood flukes (World Health Organization, Media Centre Fact Sheet 2011). The disease is most widespread in tropical Africa where it imposes severe limitations on the productivity and quality of countless lives. Schistosomiasis is a chronic, debilitating disease that causes significant damage to the bladder, liver and intestine. It is especially prevalent in children where it results in retarded growth and reduced cognitive development. The highest incidence of schistosomiasis occurs in developing countries that can least afford its impact (see www.cartercenter.org/health/schistosomiasis).

Dr. Mark Miller, Associate Director and Professor at the Institute of Neurobiology, a

Mark Miller, Ph.D.

free-standing unit of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus is collaborating with Roger Croll, Ph.D. of Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Mohammed Habib of the Theodor Bilharz Research Institute (Giza, Egypt) to explore the structure and function of the nervous system of Biomphalaria glabrata, the snail intermediate host for human schistosomiasis.

“Most recently, we described the nervous system of Biomphalaria and mapped the localization of serotonin, a major neurotransmitter and potential target for snail control initiatives,” said Dr. Miller.

Confocal image of wholemount Biomphalaria nervous system showing serotonergic neurons projecting to male reproductive structures. The penial nerve was backfilled with biocytin and labeled with streptavidin 488 (green). The preparation was then processed for serotonin-like immunoreactivity, which was labeled with an Alexa 546 second antibody (red). In an overlay of the two images, shown here, serotonergic neurons that project to the male reproductive structures of Biomphalaria appear yellow.

The collaborative team’s work was captured in their recent article.

Delgado, N., Vallejo, D., and Miller, M.W. (2012) Localization of serotonin in the nervous system of Biomphalaria glabrata, an intermediate host for schistosomiasis. Journal of Comparative Neurology 520: 3236-3255. PMID: 22434538.

The Institute of Neurobiology, part of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus, was established in 1967 by Professor José del Castillo, Distinguished Professor of the University of Puerto Rico, as a multidisciplinary interdepartmental facility dedicated to the study of nervous system structure and function. The Institute is presently composed of eleven laboratories that utilize a variety of model systems to address some of the most challenging issues facing modern Neuroscience – ranging from synapse development and specification in Drosophila to the molecular basis of addiction. The Institute of Neurobiology houses a NeuroImaging Core (confocal, live imaging, electron microscopy), a shared Molecular Neurobiology Core, and a Neurogenetics Core. Facilities are available for short and long-term visits by scientists and students.