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The value of animal models for studying human infectious diseases is increasingly being questioned. Nonetheless, it remains a serious disadvantage if no appropriate animal model is available at all, and this applies particularly to the life-threatening complications of human malaria.
The mouse malaria caused by Plasmodium berghei may result in some signs resembling cerebral malaria, the most fatal of human malaria complications, but its value as a model has been disputed because the affected brain vessels look different and P. berghei lacks var genes and, thereby, the characteristic attachment proteins used by P. falciparum. Now, we have found that P. berghei can indeed express several proteins P. falciparum uses to transport the attachment proteins to the surface of infected red blood cells and shown that this leads to the attachment to vessel walls. P. berghei also uses similar receptors but the infected red blood cells preferably bind in fat tissues and the lungs rather than in the brain. Thus, mouse malaria may serve as a model for certain malaria complications after all.
De Niz M. et al., Nat Commun 2016, 26:11659
Ann-Katrin Ullrich, Arlett Heiber, Alexandra Blancke Soares, Monica Prado, Sven Flemming, Tobias Spielmann and external cooperation partners (see publication)