Mosquito-transmitted Plasmodium falciparum infection can cause human cerebral malaria (HCM) with high mortality rates. The abundance of infected red blood cells that accumulate in the cerebral vasculature of patients has led to the belief that these brain-sequestered cells solely cause pathogenesis. However, animal models suggest that CD8+ T cells migrate to and accumulate in the brain, directly contributing to experimental cerebral malaria (ECM) mortality. In this issue of the JCI, Riggle et al. explored the brain vasculature from 34 children who died from HCM or other causes and frequently found CD3+ CD8+ T cells in contact with endothelial cells.
CD8+ T cells
Cerebral malaria (CM) accounts for nearly 400,000 deaths annually inAfrican children. Current dogma suggests that CM results from infected RBC (iRBC)sequestration in the brain microvasculature and resulting sequelae. Therapies targetingthese events have been unsuccessful; findings in experimental models suggest that CD8+ Tcells drive disease pathogenesis. However, these data have largely been ignored becausecorroborating evidence in humans is lacking. This work fills a critical gap in ourunderstanding of CM pathogenesis that is impeding development of therapeutics.