Mosquitoes vs. malaria: How we can win the fight

EMBL scientists have identified four mosquito proteins that affect the ability of the malaria parasite (Plasmodium) to survive and develop in the malaria-carrier mosquito (Anopheles). This breakthrough, featured in recent issues of Cell (March 5, 2004) and Science (March 26, 2004), could be used to block the transmission of malaria from mosquitoes to humans.

"Many researchers focus on the direct effects of Plasmodium on the human body but the mosquito is an equally important battleground in fighting the disease," notes Prof. Fotis C. Kafatos, EMBL's Director-General and leader of the group focusing on malaria research. "We now see a way to potentially stop the parasite in its tracks."

When a blood-feeding Anopheles mosquito bites an infected organism, the insect feeds on its blood - taking in the malaria-causing Plasmodium. After three weeks of developing within the mosquito, the Plasmodium moves from the insect gut into the salivary glands and is ready for transmission: at the next bloodmeal it will be injected into the bloodstream along with the mosquito's saliva, initiating a new infection cycle.

But one fact that had continued to puzzle malaria researchers is why within one mosquito species, some mosquitoes transmit malaria (termed "susceptible"), whereas others do not ("refractory"). It was suspected that protein factors of the mosquito's immune system might be responsible for this difference. EMBL scientists have now shown this to be the case - with a new twist.

Two of these mosquito proteins, TEP1 and LRIM1, were shown to be true defenders of the mosquito - killing the parasite in the insect's gut.

"The TEP1 and LRIM1 studies proved that the mosquito's immune system has the ability to defend itself against malaria. By enhancing these natural defenders, we may be able to block the parasite-mosquito cycle," says EMBL PhD student Stephanie Blandin, who worked on the TEP1 studies with CNRS researcher (and EMBL alu

Contact: Trista Dawson
European Molecular Biology Laboratory

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