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Chris Hartlove

Malaria Research News (con't)

Solving Cerebral Malaria’s Major Mystery

Monique StinsHow does cerebral malaria kill? It accounts for nearly 800,000 deaths per year, yet unlike most coma-inducing pathogens, P. falciparum, the cerebral malaria parasite, does not even enter the brain. “It stays inside red blood cells, within the cerebral blood vessels,” notes Monique Stins, PhD, an assistant professor of Neurology in the School of Medicine who frequently collaborates with scientists at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.

P. falciparum makes its host cells stick to the linings of blood vessels because they are then less likely to circulate and be eliminated by the filtering spleen. Within the small vessels of the brain, this stickiness causes infected red blood cells to gather and restrict blood flow to some extent. But that doesn’t explain why the brain becomes inflamed and swollen—often raising intracranial pressure enough to cause seizures and death.

Stins and other researchers have been looking at endothelial cells, which form the linings of blood vessels, as the likely middlemen in this process. “We’ve found that once they come into extended contact with falciparum-infected red blood cells, these endothelial cells lining cerebral vessels start to release numerous inflammatory compounds,” she says.

It had been thought that these compounds are released only into the bloodstream. But with a new model of this endothelial borderland between the bloodstream and the brain, Stins has found that these compounds also are released in significant amounts into the brain. “There they can activate astrocytes, microglial cells and even neurons,” she says, and in humans this might contribute to the development of brain inflammation and coma.

If the work pans out, she adds, it could lead to therapies that block specific signals released from these endothelial cells, thereby preventing coma while the malaria infection is treated.

Comments

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  • Richard Semakula

    Kampala 03/07/2011 02:40:18 AM

    I like you attempts to follow this human pest. I have a simple thought. Could you explore the possibility of adding a concentrated dose of a mosquito repellent into household bathing soap. this is one item used in all house holds and could be a great carrier for mosquito repelling agents.

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