Why do people with a hereditary mutation of the red blood pigment hemoglobin (as is the case with sickle-cell anemia prevalent in Africa) not contract severe malaria? Scientists in the group headed by Prof. Michael Lanzer of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Heidelberg University Hospital have now solved this mystery.
In red blood cells with normal hemoglobin, the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum establishes a trafficking system (yellow). The parasite’s proteins – encased in transport envelopes – (turquoise) use this system to directly access the cell surface of the red blood cell. Photo: courtesy of Science/AAAS
In red blood cells with mutated hemoglobin variants, the trafficking system disassembles into short pieces (yellow). Targeted transport of proteins to the surface does not occur. Photo: courtesy of Science/AAAS
A degradation product of the altered hemoglobin provides protection from severe malaria. Within the red blood cells infected by the malaria parasite, it blocks the establishment of a trafficking system used by the parasite’s special adhesive proteins – adhesins – to access the exterior of the blood cells. As a result, the infected blood cells do not adhere to the vessel walls, as is usually the case for this type of malaria. This means that no dangerous circulatory disorders or neurological complications occur. The research study has been published in the journal Science, appearing initially online.
In the 1940s, researchers already discovered that sickle-cell anemia with its characteristic blood mutation was particularly prevalent in certain population groups in Africa. They also survived malaria tropica, whose course is usually especially virulent. With malaria tropica, the malaria parasites (Plasmodia) enter the person after a bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito first multiplies in the person’s liver cells and then infects the red blood cells (erythrocytes). Once inside the erythrocytes, they divide again and ultimately destroy them. The nearly simultaneous bursting of all infected blood cells causes the characteristic symptoms, which include bouts of fever and anemia.
Adhesins on red blood cells cause circulatory disorders
In patients with malaria tropica, neurological complications such as paralysis, seizures, coma and severe brain damage also frequently occur. This is caused by an anomaly of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. It forms special adhesins that reach the cell surface of the infected blood cell. Once there, it causes the erythrocytes to adhere to the vessel walls, preventing them from being recognized in the spleen as damaged and removed from circulation. The parasite’s protective mechanism results in smaller vessels closing, becoming inflamed and for example, prevents parts of the nervous system from being adequately supplied with oxygen.
In humans with mutated hemoglobin, these complications occur in a weakened form or not at all. “At the cell surface of infected erythrocytes with mutated hemoglobin, there are significantly fewer adhesins of the parasite than in normal red blood cells,” explained Prof. Lanzer, Director of the Dept. of Infectious Diseases, Parasitology. “For this reason, we had a closer look at the trafficking system within the host cell.” To this end, the team compared the blood cells with normal hemoglobin and two hemoglobin variants (hemoglobin S and hemoglobin C), which occur in around one-fifth of the African population in malaria-infected areas.
Trafficking system of the malaria parasite visualized for the first time
In so doing, the scientists used high-resolution microscopy techniques such as cryoelectron tomography to discover a new transport mechanism. The parasite uses a certain protein (actin) from the cytoskeleton (cellular skeleton) of the erythrocytes for its own trafficking network. “It forms a completely new structure that has nothing in common with the rest of the cytoskeleton,” explained Dr. Marek Cyrklaff, group leader at the Dept. of Infectious Diseases, Parasitology and first author of the article. “The vesicles with the adhesins reach the cell surface of the red blood cells directly via these actin filaments.”
In contrast to erythrocytes with the two hemoglobin variants, here only short pieces of actin filaments are found. Targeted transport to the surface is not possible. “The entire transport system of the malaria parasite is degenerated in these blood cells,” Cyrklaff added. Laboratory tests showed that the hemoglobins themselves were not responsible for this, but rather a degradation product, ferryl hemoglobin. This is an irreversibly damaged, chemically altered hemoglobin that is no longer able to bind oxygen. The hemoglobins S and C are considerably more unstable than normal hemoglobin. As a result, blood cells with these variants contain ten times more ferryl hemoglobin than other erythrocytes. This high concentration destabilizes the binding of the actin structure and it disintegrates.
“With these results, we have now described a molecular mechanism for the first time that explains this hemoglobin variant’s protective effect against malaria,” Lanzer said.Literature:
Requests by journalists:Prof. Michael Lanzer, Ph. D.
Dr. Annette Tuffs | idw
Further reports about: > Infectious Diseases > Medical Wellness > Parasitology > Plasmodium falciparum > Protection > actin filaments > blood cell > cell surface > circulatory disorders > diseases > infectious outbreaks > malaria parasite > microscopy technique > neurological complications > red blood cells > vessel wall
Mass spectrometry sheds new light on thallium poisoning cold case
14.12.2018 | University of Maryland
Protein involved in nematode stress response identified
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy