Senior co-author Dr. Guy Zimmerman, associate chairman for research in the Department of Medicine at the University of Utah said malaria, a parasitic infection that is transmitted to humans by a female mosquito, is a severe, potentially fatal neurologic complication of infection by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
Studies of children with cerebral malaria showed cognitive deficits, such as impaired memory, learning, language and mathematical abilities -- long after the infection itself is cured, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman and his Brazilian colleagues evaluated the effect of statins -- drug used to lower cholesterol -- in a mouse model of cerebral malaria. The researchers found that adding a drug lovastatin to traditional anti-malarial therapy prevented cognitive dysfunction in mice infected with cerebral malaria.
"The fact that statin treatment decreases both injurious blood vessel inflammation and cognitive dysfunction suggests that a combination of vascular and inflammatory triggers leads to cerebral pathology and intellectual deficits," Zimmerman said in a statement. "Our findings are exciting because the clinical implications extend beyond cerebral malaria to other severe systemic inflammatory syndromes complicated by brain involvement."
The findings were published in PLOS Pathogens.