Malaria auto-immune response23rd May 2008
New findings related to malaria infection in children may help explain why some malaria vaccines are not working.
A research team from Nigeria and the United States found that, in some cases, malaria infection might cause children's immune systems to attack their own DNA, resulting in more severe disease than in adults.
Scientists tested blood samples from 21 Nigerian children under the age of six infected with Plasmodium falciparum malaria and tested them for the presence of different immune components.
They were looking for signalling chemicals released by the immune system and antibodies. They found modified white blood cells, called NETs, which capture the malaria parasite, had also released copies of the body's own DNA.
This stimulated antibody production specifically targeted at the children's own DNA, leading to speculation that the DNA causes the immune system to attack its own cells - known as autoimmunity.
This would account for worse states of sickness in malaria-infected children than those found in adults.
Adults, with their more developed immune systems, can often be repeatedly exposed to malaria and benefit from a better immune system response and stronger protection against the parasite.
Co-author Virginia Baker, from the US-based Chipola College said the research sheds new light on how the children are responding to falciparum malaria, apparently showing that the children are making antibodies that are not protective.
The findings may also show why some vaccines, which use DNA as an agent to increase immunity, fail to work. Such vaccines may in fact need an immunosuppressant in order to confer protection, Baker said.
Co-author Michael Oluseyi Obadofin, from Jos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, said the study was groundbreaking, because no research done so far had established an immune-system basis for malarial susceptibility in children.
Protocols that treat the auto-immune response and the parasite at the same time may well be more effective in preventing severe malaria in young children, the team said in a study published in Malaria Journal.
But they called for more research is still into the auto-immune response theory, to help inform vaccine production.
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