Researchers found that the malaria parasite Plasmodium can use the liver cells for survival and reproduction. The findings, the researchers say, could lead them to develop new medicines that would help treat malaria even before any symptoms appear.
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The plasmodium malaria parasite withdraws and escapes into the liver immediately after entering the bloodstream.
A new study shows that it works to multiply, survive and prepare for invasion.
In the lab: investigating malaria parasites
Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina wanted to study the malaria parasite and its role in the liver
To do so, they dissected malaria-infected mosquitoes and extracted hidden parasites. Then they infected human liver cells with the parasite and used RNA sequencing to study all genes, especially those that are turned on in infected liver cells.
When the parasite bites off an infected mosquito, it immediately escapes into a liver. Inside, the parasite forces itself into liver cells and causes them to administer a protein called aquaporin-3 or AQP-3.
The parasite then steals the protein and uses it for its own benefit. It will multiply and make thousands of copies of itself within just 2 days. After that, the parasite becomes too strong; It goes back into the bloodstream and begins to penetrate into the red blood cells.
"This parasite has found a way to manipulate the host's liver cells to make them favorable to this replication event," said Emily Derbyshire, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke University. "This suggests that we may be able to develop drugs to protect the host against malaria."
Discovery May Lead to New Treatments for Malaria
According to the researchers, the results could lead to the development of new drugs that can help treat malaria in the liver and even before any symptoms appear. One way to achieve this, according to the researchers, is to reduce or limit the parasite's ability to use an inhibitor that deactivates the protein.
Instead of preventing or fighting the parasite after it has penetrated the red blood cells, the team at Duke University discovered a way to destroy the parasite while still in the liver.
"This is great evidence that small molecules can be developed to fight Plasmodium in the liver, a campaign that specifically seeks inhibitors of this protein," added Derbyshire.
The study was recently published in the journal PLOS Pathogens
species of Plasmodium
about hundreds of species of Plasmodium can infect animals, including birds, reptiles and a variety of mammals. So far, it is known that four species of the genus infect humans in nature.
According to Duke's Global Health Institute, malaria caused around 700,000 deaths worldwide, mostly among children in Africa. However, the disease is preventable and curable.
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