Sickle-trait hemoglobin protects against severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria. Severe malaria is governed in part by the expression of the Plasmodium falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1) that are encoded by var genes, specifically those variants that bind Endothelial Protein C Receptor (EPCR). In this study, we investigate the effect of sickle-trait on parasite var gene expression and function in vitro and in field-collected parasites.
Cerebral malaria (CM) is caused by the binding of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes (IEs) to the brain microvasculature, leading to inflammation, vessel occlusion, and cerebral swelling. We have previously linked dual intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1)- and endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR)-binding P. falciparum parasites to these symptoms, but the mechanism driving the pathogenesis has not been identified.
Structure-guided vaccine design provides a route to elicit a focused immune response against the most functionally important regions of a pathogen surface. This can be achieved by identifying epitopes for neutralizing antibodies through structural methods and recapitulating these epitopes by grafting their core structural features onto smaller scaffolds. In this study, we conducted a modified version of this protocol. We focused on the PfEMP1 protein family found on the surfaces of erythrocytes infected with Plasmodium falciparum A subset of PfEMP1 proteins bind to endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR), and their expression correlates with development of the symptoms of severe malaria.