Unveiling malaria's 'invisibility cloak'

Jan 18, 2012

The discovery by researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of a molecule that is key to malaria's 'invisibility cloak' will help to better understand how the parasite causes disease and escapes from the defenses mounted by the immune system.

The research team, led by Professor Alan Cowman from the institute's Infection and Immunity division, has identified one of the crucial molecules that instructs the parasite to employ its invisibility cloak to hide from the immune system, and helps its offspring to remember how to 'make' the cloak.

In research published today in the journal , Professor Cowman and colleagues reveal details about the first molecule found to control the of PfEMP1 ( erythrocyte membrane protein 1), a protein that is known to be a major cause of disease during .

"The molecule that we discovered, named PfSET10, plays an important role in the of PfEMP1; an essential parasite protein that is used during specific stages of parasite development for its survival," Professor Cowman said.

"This is the first protein that has been found at what we call the 'active' site, where control of the genes that produce PfEMP1 occurs. Knowing the genes involved in the production of PfEMP1 is key to understanding how this parasite escapes the defenses deployed against it by our immune system," he said.

PfEMP1 plays two important roles in malaria infection. It enables the parasite to stick to cells on the internal lining of blood vessels, which prevents the infected cells from being eliminated from the body. It is also responsible for helping the parasite to escape destruction by the immune system, by varying the of the PfEMP1 protein so that at least some of the parasites will evade detection. This variation lends the parasite the 'cloak of invisibility' which makes it difficult for the immune system to detect parasite-infected cells, and is part of the reason a vaccine has remained elusive.

Professor Cowman said identification of the PfSET10 molecule was the first step towards unveiling the way in which the parasite uses PfEMP1 as an to hide itself from the immune system. "As we better understand the systems that control how the PfEMP1 protein is encoded and produced by the parasite, including the molecules that are involved in controlling the process, we will be able to produce targeted treatments that would be more effective in preventing malaria infection in the approximately 3 billion people who are at risk of contracting malaria worldwide," he said.

Each year more than 250 million people are infected with malaria and approximately 655,000 people, mostly children, die. Professor Cowman has spent more than 30 years studying Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal of the four Plasmodium species, with the aim of developing new vaccines and treatments for the disease.

Explore further: Friction harnessed by proteins helps organize cell division

Provided by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

5 /5 (1 vote)

Related Stories

How the malaria parasite hijacks human red blood cells

Jul 08, 2008

A new study—done on a scale an order of magnitude greater than anything previously attempted in the field of malaria—has uncovered an arsenal of proteins produced by the malaria parasite that allows it to hijack and remodel ...

Malaria's newest pathway into human cells identified

Sep 24, 2010

Development of an effective vaccine for malaria is a step closer following identification of a key pathway used by the malaria parasite to infect human cells. The discovery, by researchers at The Walter and ...

How adhesive protein causes malaria

Sep 25, 2007

Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (SMI) have identified the biochemical mechanism behind the adhesive protein that give rise ...

Recommended for you

Lifestyle determines gut microbes

19 hours ago

An international team of researchers has for the first time deciphered the intestinal bacteria of present-day hunter-gatherers.

Rethink education to fuel bioeconomy, says report

21 hours ago

Microbes can be highly efficient, versatile and sophisticated manufacturing tools, and have the potential to form the basis of a vibrant economic sector. In order to take full advantage of the opportunity microbial-based ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ranchers benefit from long-term grazing data

Scientists studying changes in the Earth's surface rely on 40 years of Landsat satellite imaging, but South Dakota ranchers making decisions about grazing their livestock can benefit from 70 years of data ...

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

(Phys.org) —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...