Scabies: Important Clinical Consequences Explained by New Molecular Studies

Katja Fischer, Deborah Holt, Bart Currie, David Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2004, we reviewed the status of disease caused by the scabies mite Sarcoptes scabiei at the time and pointed out that very little basic research had ever been done. The reason for this was largely the lack of availability of mites for experimental purposes and, to a degree, a consequent lack of understanding of its importance, resulting in the trivial name 'itch mite'. Scabies is responsible for major morbidity in disadvantaged communities and immunocompromised patients worldwide. In addition to the physical discomfort caused by the disease, scabies infestations facilitate infection by bacterial pathogens such as Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus via skin lesions, resulting in severe downstream disease such as in a high prevalence of rheumatic fever/heart disease in affected communities. We now have further evidence that in disadvantaged populations living in tropical climates, scabies rather than 'Strep throat' is an important source of S. pyogenes causing rheumatic fever and eventually rheumatic heart disease. In addition, our work has resulted in two fundamental research tools that facilitate much of the current biomedical research efforts on scabies, namely a public database containing ~45,000 scabies mite expressed sequence tags and a porcine in vivo model. Here we will discuss novel and unexpected proteins encountered in the database that appear crucial to mite survival with regard to digestion and evasion of host defence. The mode(s) of action of some of these have been at least partially revealed. Further, newly discovered molecules that may well have a similar role, such as a family of inactivated cysteine proteases, are yet to be investigated. Hence, there are now whole families of potential targets for chemical inhibitors of S. scabiei. These efforts put today's scabies research in a unique position to design and test small molecules that may specifically interfere with mite-derived molecules, such as digestive proteases and mite complement inhibitors. The porcine scabies model will be available to trial in vivo treatment with potential inhibitors. New therapies for scabies may be developed from these studies and may contribute to reduce the spread of scabies and the subsequent prevalence of bacterial skin infections and their devastating sequelae in the community.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberChapter 5
Pages (from-to)339-373
Number of pages35
JournalAdvances in Parasitology
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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