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It is well known that our immune system can build up partial immunity against repeated malaria attacks. But there is also evidence indicating that the immune response may as well contribute to the development of life-threatening Plasmodium falciparum infections
After an initial activation by an infection, an immune response usually is controlled by central regulators (T lymphocytes), which start to express receptors for inhibitors (CTLA4, PD1) on their surface. In patients who were treated for acute malaria in Germany, we found substantially higher numbers of such receptors than in healthy persons. Incubation with red blood cells infected by P. falciparum resulted in a significant increase in the number of such T lymphocytes carrying receptors for inhibitors. These lymphocytes in turn inhibited other T lymphocytes reactive to P. falciparum. On one hand, such a transient inhibition of T lymphocytes appears to be unfavourable because it impairs the immune response to the parasites, on the other hand it may be of advantage because it dampens immune-mediated inflammatory reactions, which contribute to the development of life-threatening complications – a delicate balance. Now, the aim is to find out whether these two effects can be separated from each other and may be modified individually.
Maria Mackroth, Annemieke Abel, Christiane Steeg, Th omas Jacobs and external cooperation partners (see publication)