Research

Numerous attachment sites for malaria-infected red blood cells 
on the walls of small blood vessels

Red blood cells that are infected by malaria parasites adhere to the walls of our small blood vessels thereby causing alterations of the microcirculation and organ damage. When this occurs in the brain, it’s known as cerebral malaria.

Adherence of red blood cells (red) infected by malaria parasites (cell nuclei as small blue spots) to animal cells (large blue ovals) carrying on their surface proteins from human brain blood vessel walls (small green spots).
Adherence of red blood cells (red) infected by malaria parasites (cell nuclei as small blue spots) to animal cells (large blue ovals) carrying on their surface proteins from human brain blood vessel walls (small green spots).

Since this mechanism was discovered some thirty years ago, there have been 15 different molecules identified that serve as attachment sites for these infected red blood cells, among them a prominent receptor on the vessel walls inside the brain. At present, there are attempts to design a vaccine that inhibits adherence to this receptor in order to combat life-threatening cerebral malaria. In most of those studies, commonly-used laboratory-grown strains of malaria parasites have been used. Using a mixture of malaria parasites recently obtained from Ghanaian children, we have examined ten additional molecules expressed on human brain vessel walls and found that seven of them may likewise serve as attachment sites for infected red blood cells. It appears that malaria-infected red blood cells are rather promiscuous in their attachment to human vessel walls and different parasite isolates may use different adherence molecules. These findings suggest that it may be difficult to develop a vaccine that can prevent all variants of adherence of malaria-infected red blood cells to the vessel walls inside the brain.

 


Esser C. et al., Cell Microbiol 2014, 16(5): 701-708

Claudia Esser, Anna Bachmann, Daniela Kuhn, Kathrin Schuldt, Birgit Förster, Meike Thiel, Jürgen May, Iris Bruchhaus, Rolf Horstmann and external co-operation partners (see publication)