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National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007

Media Contact:
Laura Sivitz
(301) 402-1663
niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov
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NIAID MEDIA AVAILABILITY
Study of Malaria Parasites Reveals
New Parasitic States

WHAT:

Although malaria parasites have undergone extensive laboratory study, relatively little is known about how they behave in humans to cause disease. Newly published data from a study of malaria-infected human blood reveal two biological states of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum not observed under laboratory conditions. This information may help scientists develop new strategies for treating malaria.

A team led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University and supported in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health, collected blood samples from 43 P. falciparum-infected malaria patients in Senegal who were suffering from a range of malaria symptoms. The scientists isolated the parasites’ genomic information and determined which of the nearly 6,000 P. falciparum genes were switched on or off during infection, revealing distinct groups of parasites with characteristic sets of active and inactive genes. By comparing this information about P. falciparum with gene activation patterns in a similar but better-understood organism—baker’s yeast—the scientists described three biological classes of malaria parasites, each with a different metabolic state. One state is well known from laboratory studies, but the other two have never been observed before. One newly described state appears to reflect starving parasites, while the other suggests parasites under extreme environmental stress. Remarkably, say the scientists, the latter group correlated with specific patient symptoms, including high fevers and elevated levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.

These findings suggest that the state of the parasite may correlate with a malaria patient’s symptoms, which can range from mild, flu-like illness to coma and even death. If further research confirms such direct relationships, this could open the door to the development of new malaria treatments that ameliorate disease symptoms by targeting the parasite’s behavior.

ARTICLE: JP Daily et al. Distinct physiological states of Plasmodium falciparum in malaria-infected patients. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature06311 (2007).
SPOKESPERSON: NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is available to comment on this research advance.
CONTACT: To schedule an interview, contact Laura Sivitz in the NIAID News and Public Information Branch, 301-402-1663, or niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov.

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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Last Updated November 28, 2007