Saturday, 12 November 2011 10:43

Researchers discover weak spot of the Malaria pathogen Featured

By screening red blood cell proteins in a protein database (ARVEXIS), Gavin Wright and his team from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, have identified a receptor-ligand pair which is of fundamental significance regarding the invasion of human red blood cells by Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria pathogen.

Until now the malaria pathogen Plasmodium falciparum was considered to be extremely adaptive. If one blocked one of the red blood cells' receptors, it used other receptors to enter the erythrocytes. Each strain of the pathogen also uses different combinations of red blood cell receptors.

The researchers observed that one particular protein known as PfRh5 is present in all known Plasmodium falciparum strains. This protein is considered to be essential for the growth of the parasite in blood cell cultures. The researchers have also found out that the protein must dock onto the so-called BSG receptor on the surface of the red blood cells in order to penetrate the cells. When they blocked the receptor, none of the nine Plasmodium variants tested were able to enter the blood cells any more.

The researchers hope that the newly discovered receptor could be a decisive breakthrough in the fight against malaria. One single receptor essential for all Plasmodium strains could make facilitate the development a broadly effective vaccine.