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Hormones and drugs that control blood pressure also control malaria infection

Athough malaria infects both liver and blood cells, it is during the blood stage of malaria -- when infected red blood cells that are incubating thousands of parasites literally explode and release more parasites into the blood stream -- that the symptoms of malaria occur. These symptoms include fever and flu-like symptoms such as chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. Immunity is slow to develop, and left untreated, malaria may be fatal, taking its greatest toll in children.

Blocking blood-stage infection by preventing the entry of the P. falciparum parasite into red blood cells provides the most direct way to control infection and quell the symptoms of malaria. But how red blood cells allow the entry of malaria parasites was unknown.

Travis Harrison, who is first author on the article and a research assistant in Haldars laboratory, found that G proteins in the red blood cell may be used by the parasite.

G proteins are essentially go-betweens, or transducers, that translate signals from hormones, neurotransmitters and other substances and in turn activate such cell processes as gene transcription, motility, secretion and contractility. G proteins have been intensively studied in a wide range of cells, but their functions in oxygen-carrying red blood cells are only beginning to be understood, Haldar said.

Research by Haldar and co-investigators showed that a G protein subunit, called Gs, concentrates around the malaria parasite during infection of the red blood cell.

Using special peptides, compounds similar to proteins, that inhibited the interaction of Gs protein, the researchers were able to show in several laboratory models of malaria that blocking the Gs signal resulted in decreased malaria infection.

Two major Gs-associated receptors, the beta-adrenergic and the adenosine receptors, are known to be present in red blood cells. Stimulating these receptors with a drug called an agonist increased infe
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Contact: Elizabeth Crown
e-crown@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
18-Sep-2003


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