The study appears in the September 20 Current Biology.
"This discovery provides the groundwork for possible new approaches to treating malaria, " said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "The malaria parasite is growing resistant to the drugs used to treat it, and new knowledge is essential for developing strategies to protect against the disease."
The study supplants earlier theories on how the malaria parasite spreads from the red blood cells it infects.
According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills more than 1 million people a year. (The WHO fact sheet, "What is Malaria?" is available on the organization's Web site at http://mosquito.who.int/cmc_upload/0/000/015/372/RBMInfosheet_1.htm.)
Malaria is caused by four species of the parasite Plasmodium, the most common and deadly of which is Plasmodium falciparum. P. falciparum spends part of its life cycle in the salivary glands of mosquitoes and is transmitted to human beings through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The parasite infects red blood cells. Called a merozoite at the stage of its life when it infects red blood cells, the parasite multiplies inside the cell, until the cell ruptures and releases them. The newly released merozoites infect still other cells, and the process begins again.
To conduct the study, the researchers stained red blood cells infected with P. falciparum with two kinds of dye, explained the study's senior author, Joshua Zimmerberg, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of NICHD's Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biophysics. One dye sta
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