Cholesterol drug may fight malaria effects

Jan. 2, 2013 at 10:37 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Adding a cholesterol-lowering drug to anti-malarial treatment protects against cognitive impairment in a mouse model of cerebral malaria, U.S. researchers say.

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.

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