Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) reconstructed the 3D structure of one of the proteins of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria and the antibodies that act as the first line of defense against the parasite. This research, published in Cell Reports, was conducted at the Structural Cellular Biology Unit, led by Prof. Ulf Skoglund. This study provides valuable knowledge for the design of anti-malaria drugs.
One strategy used by the pathogen to amplify its spreading probability is the formation of rosette-shaped clusters of uninfected erythrocytes surrounding a malaria-infected red blood cell. Since the parasite in the central cell of the rosette can easily infect the surrounding cells, the rosette enhances the infection. Moreover, rosetting is associated with severe malaria and high fever. In small blood vessels big rosettes bind to the walls of the capillaries, obstructing the normal blood flow, causing the body to react with high fever. Since children and elderly people have thinner capillaries, they are at higher risk of severe malaria.
Malaria-infected red blood cells (RBC) express the pathogen protein PfEMP1 on their surface. IgM and PfEMP1 form a bouquet that makes the cell more infectious and more prone to attract other still-uninfected red blood cells. Moreover, the other immune system proteins (such as the complement, C1q) are not able to be recruited and kill the infected cell.
How Malaria Fools Our Immune System
Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST