The epidemic of konzo disease in Africa was explained by the peculiarities of the microflora of local residents

The epidemic of konzo disease in Africa was explained by the peculiarities of the microflora of local residents
The epidemic of konzo disease in Africa was explained by the peculiarities of the microflora of local residents

Scientists have suggested that the Konzo disease epidemic in Africa may be associated with special microbes that live in the intestines of local residents. When substances from cassava break down, these organisms release cyanides, which, as experts suggest, may develop this disease leading to paralysis. The research results were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

"Microorganisms are far from the only cause of konzo disease, but they play a decisive role in its appearance. If these bacteria did not exist, then linamarin and other cyanogenic glucosides from cassava flour would not pose a danger to humans," said one of the authors of the work, scientific Matthew Bramble of the United States Children's National Hospital.

Konzo is one of the most common neurophysiological diseases that often affects the people of Congo and other countries in central Africa. It does not occur in other regions of the world. This disease causes serious disturbances in the functioning of the brain and the musculoskeletal system, and in the most severe cases, it causes paralysis.

Scientists do not yet know the exact reasons for the appearance of konzo. However, it was noticed for a long time that this disease affects the inhabitants of those regions of Africa, whose inhabitants eat mainly products from cassava flour. In its untreated form, this plant is dangerous to humans, since it contains cyanogenic glucosides - substances, the decomposition of which releases cyanides and hydrogen cyanide.

These compounds can cause paralysis and other disorders that are associated with Konzo disease. The problem is that not all residents of the Congo and other regions of Africa, where cassava forms the basis of the daily diet, suffer from konzo equally often. Such considerations have led scientists to debate for many years whether cyanogenic glucosides could be the real cause of the disease.

Bramble and his colleagues suggested that the gut microflora of local residents may be the main cause of the konzo epidemic. Their study involved 180 children from different parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In some of them, there were outbreaks of konzo.

Comparing these data, the researchers found that the microflora of children from affected areas of the DRC almost always had an unusually high number of bacteria of three types: Lactobacillus plantarum, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, and Lactococcus lacti. Their cells produce a variety of enzymes that degrade linamarin and other cyanogenic glucosides found in cassava.

Bramble and his colleagues believe that these microbes are the main reason for the emergence of konzo in areas of Africa where epidemics of this disease occur. Scientists hope that their subsequent study, as well as analysis of differences in the composition of microflora in related residents of different regions of the Congo, will help doctors develop the first effective methods of countering the konzo epidemic and reveal other reasons for the development of this disease.

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