Identification of a new group of genes believed to be responsible for the phenomenon now known as 'pregnancy malaria' has researchers steps closer to developing preventative treatment for a condition that is a significant cause of infant mortality in Africa.
Most individuals living in areas of the world where malaria transmission is constant acquire clinical immunity by adulthood, however women becoming pregnant for the first time have shown increased susceptibility to Plasmodium falciparum parasites that specifically target the placenta.
What is now known as 'pregnancy malaria' can cause severe problems for both mother and child such as maternal anemia, low birth weight and increased neonatal and infant mortality rates, which are now averaging between 100,000 and 200,000 African newborns each year. Previous studies show that women build up antibodies to placental malaria through successive pregnancies, therefore raising hopes of developing a vaccine.
Through whole-genome-expression analysis of parasites collected from Tanzanian women with pregnancy malaria researchers identified six genes significantly higher in both placental and peripheral parasites. A member of a variant group of genes previously linked to pregnancy malaria, as well as five genes of unknown functions, were identified.
"These findings suggest that a suite of genes may be important for the genesis of the placental binding phenotype of P. falciparum and may provide novel targets for therapeutic intervention," say the researchers.
They report their findings in the October 2007 issue of the journal Infection and Immunity.
Article: S.E. Francis, V.A. Malkov, A.V. Oleinikov, E. Rossnagle, J.P. Wendler, T.K. Mutabingwa, M. Fried, P.E. Duffy. 2007. Six genes are preferentially transcribed by the circulating and sequestered forms of Plasmodium falciparum parasites that infect pregnant women. Infection and Immunity, 75. 10: 4838-4850.
Materials provided by American Society for Microbiology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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