The parasite that causes malaria exploits one of the body's own chemicals to cause infection, according to a report in the November issue of Nature Medicine.
Sporozoites of the parasite, Plasmodium berghei, infect a human host by traveling through the liver, wounding several liver cells along the way before settling down in one of them. Maria Mota and colleagues discovered that the wounded cells produce a protein called hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), which is normally involved in liver development and regeneration. When the secreted HGF activates receptors on a neighboring cell, it triggers a pathway that rearranges the internal skeleton of that cell and makes it more susceptible to Plasmodium infection.
Mota's findings might explain why malaria can be more severe in hepatitis B carriers, who have more HGF than normal. The researchers also found that blocking the HGF receptors prevented Plasmodium from infecting the liver. They suggest that interfering with the HGF pathway might be the key to developing new malaria treatments.
Maria M. Mota
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia
Tel: +351 21 446 4517
Also available online.
(C) Nature Medicine press release.
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