Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Protection from severe malaria explained

Date:
November 19, 2011
Source:
University Hospital Heidelberg
Summary:
Why do people with a hereditary mutation of the red blood pigment hemoglobin (as is the case with sickle-cell anemia prevalent in Africa) not contract severe malaria? Scientists have now solved this mystery.

Why do people with a hereditary mutation of the red blood pigment hemoglobin (as is the case with sickle-cell anemia prevalent in Africa) not contract severe malaria? Scientists in the group headed by Prof. Michael Lanzer of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Heidelberg University Hospital have now solved this mystery.

Related Articles


A degradation product of the altered hemoglobin provides protection from severe malaria. Within the red blood cells infected by the malaria parasite, it blocks the establishment of a trafficking system used by the parasite's special adhesive proteins -- adhesins -- to access the exterior of the blood cells. As a result, the infected blood cells do not adhere to the vessel walls, as is usually the case for this type of malaria. This means that no dangerous circulatory disorders or neurological complications occur.

The research study has been published in the journal Science, appearing initially online.

In the 1940s, researchers already discovered that sickle-cell anemia with its characteristic blood mutation was particularly prevalent in certain population groups in Africa. They also survived malaria tropica, whose course is usually especially virulent. With malaria tropica, the malaria parasites (Plasmodia) enter the person after a bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasites first multiply in the person's liver cells and then infect the red blood cells (erythrocytes). Once inside the erythrocytes, they divide again and ultimately destroy them. The nearly simultaneous bursting of all infected blood cells causes the characteristic symptoms, which include bouts of fever and anemia.

Adhesins on red blood cells cause circulatory disorders

In patients with malaria tropica, neurological complications such as paralysis, seizures, coma and severe brain damage also frequently occur. This is caused by an anomaly of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. It forms special adhesins that reach the cell surface of the infected blood cell. Once there, it causes the erythrocytes to adhere to the vessel walls, preventing them from being recognized in the spleen as damaged and removed from circulation. The parasite's protective mechanism results in smaller vessels closing, becoming inflamed and for example, prevents parts of the nervous system from being adequately supplied with oxygen.

In humans with mutated hemoglobin, these complications occur in a weakened form or not at all. "At the cell surface of infected erythrocytes with mutated hemoglobin, there are significantly fewer adhesins of the parasite than in normal red blood cells," explained Prof. Lanzer, Director of the Dept. of Infectious Diseases, Parasitology. "For this reason, we had a closer look at the trafficking system within the host cell." To this end, the team compared the blood cells with normal hemoglobin and two hemoglobin variants (hemoglobin S and hemoglobin C), which occur in around one-fifth of the African population in malaria-infected areas.

Trafficking system of the malaria parasite visualized for the first time

In so doing, the scientists used high-resolution microscopy techniques such as cryoelectron tomography to discover a new transport mechanism. The parasite uses a certain protein (actin) from the cytoskeleton (cellular skeleton) of the erythrocytes for its own trafficking network. "It forms a completely new structure that has nothing in common with the rest of the cytoskeleton," explained Dr. Marek Cyrklaff, group leader at the Dept. of Infectious Diseases, Parasitology and first author of the article. "The vesicles with the adhesins reach the cell surface of the red blood cells directly via these actin filaments."

In contrast to erythrocytes with the two hemoglobin variants,here only short pieces of actin filaments are found. Targeted transport to the surface is not possible. "The entire transport system of the malaria parasite is degenerated in these blood cells," Cyrklaff added. Laboratory tests showed that the hemoglobins themselves were not responsible for this, but rather a degradation product, ferryl hemoglobin. This is an irreversibly damaged, chemically altered hemoglobin that is no longer able to bind oxygen. The hemoglobins S and C are considerably more unstable than normal hemoglobin. As a result, blood cells with these variants contain ten times more ferryl hemoglobin than other erythrocytes. This high concentration destabilizes the binding of the actin structure and it disintegrates.

"With these results, we have now described a molecular mechanism for the first time that explains this hemoglobin variant's protective effect against malaria," Lanzer said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Hospital Heidelberg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Cyrklaff, C. P. Sanchez, N. Kilian, C. Bisseye, J. Simpore, F. Frischknecht, M. Lanzer. Hemoglobins S and C Interfere with Actin Remodeling in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes. Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1126/science.1213775

Cite This Page:

University Hospital Heidelberg. "Protection from severe malaria explained." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111118133044.htm>.
University Hospital Heidelberg. (2011, November 19). Protection from severe malaria explained. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111118133044.htm
University Hospital Heidelberg. "Protection from severe malaria explained." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111118133044.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

AFP (Dec. 17, 2014) Border closures, quarantines and crop losses in West African nations battling the Ebola virus could lead to as many as one million people going hungry, UN food agencies said on Wednesday. Duration: 00:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, waking up for work is the biggest factor that causes Americans to lose sleep. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins