In a related paper in this issue, Antoine Claessens, Ph.D., who works in the lab of Alexandra Rowe, D. Phil., of the University of Edinburgh, reports that these particular PfEMP1 types domain cassettes 8 and 13 mediate the binding of infected red blood cells to cells that line blood vessels in the brain. "This provides us with new molecules that could be targeted to develop drugs to treat the most deadly forms of malaria," said Rowe. "In addition, because animal models for cerebral malaria are currently unavailable, we believe our findings might lead to a laboratory tool for testing drugs and vaccines that block the binding of the parasite to blood vessels in the brain."
Marion Avril, Ph.D., who works in the Smith lab at Seattle BioMed, reports in this issue that domain cassette 8 encodes binding activity for brain blood vessel cells. Additionally, the authors uncovered a potential explanation for the evolutionary persistence of parasite protein variants that mediate cerebral malaria, an often-fatal disease that tends to wipe out the parasite's host.
"Because those brain-binding variants can also bind to blood vessels in the skin, heart, and lung, the parasite might sequester in those organs," Smith explained. "Together, the findings could help researchers better address the lingering problem of childhood malaria."
"It's been a 15-year journey since this gene family was discovered, but the coming together of these three studies, which all identify the same key players in severe malaria, is an important milestone," said Rowe. "We're excited to have this knowledge and begin to apply it to developing new solutions for malaria."
|Contact: Jennifer Mortensen|
Seattle Biomedical Research Institute