BALTIMORE, May 12 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers found a protein made in response to inflammation called MIF that appears to suppress red-blood-cell production in people with malaria.
The parasite that causes malaria, plasmodium, is carried through blood by mosquito bites, and millions of people are infected in parts of the world where mosquitoes thrive, most of them by early childhood.
Once in the bloodstream, plasmodium invades liver and red blood cells and makes more copies of itself. Eventually, as red blood cells break and free plasmodium to infect other cells, the body's immune system works to kill infected cells and the total number of red blood cells drops, causing anemia.
However, not everyone infected with malaria develops severe, lethal anemia, and there is a growing amount of evidence that an individual's unique genetic makeup can affect the prevalence of malarial anemia, according to Dr. Michael A. McDevitt of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
The study, published online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, found that demonstrating MIF clearly contributes to severe anemia and suggests new ideas for therapies that can block MIF in malaria patients.