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Basis for key parasite function in malaria found

July / August 2011 | Volume 10, Issue 4

View through microscope of plasmodium gallinaceum, dark purple tubes growing from light green textured surface

Plasmodium gallinaceum causes
malaria in poultry.

Inside a human red blood cell, the malaria parasite both hides from the immune system and fuels its own growth by digesting hemoglobin, the cell’s main protein. The parasite, however, must obtain additional nutrients from the bloodstream via tiny pores in the cell membrane. Investigators at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) - who previously discovered the main feeding pore on parasite-infected red blood cells - recently found the genes that malaria parasites use to create these feeding pores.

The discovery of parasite genes required for feeding pore activity opens up several new research directions. For example, development of antimalarial drugs that target these channels could be accelerated. The NIAID team has already found channel inhibitors that kill malaria parasites. They also are exploring how the feeding channel protein is transported from the parasite to the red blood cell membrane, as preventing this transport may be another way to kill malaria parasites.

In addition to funding from NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research, this study was supported by Medicines for Malaria Venture, a not-for-profit public-private partnership headquartered in Switzerland.

This article was adapted from NIAID Global Research: Improving Health in a Changing World [PDF 7M, 24 pages].

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