Researchers discover how malaria invades human liver

Blocking a protein in a cell in liver blood vessel lining may prevent the malaria parasite from infecting a host.

By Stephen Feller

BALTIMORE, July 27 (UPI) -- Researchers discovered the protein that allows the malaria parasite to enter the liver, where it reproduces before infecting the body, which may lead to new ways of keeping the disease from spreading.

The malaria parasite, which causes 200 million new infections and half a million deaths each year, enters the body through a mosquito bite and makes its way to the liver. Once there, it multiplies into the tens of thousands of copies of the parasite, which are then distributed throughout the body by returning to the bloodstream.


Previous studies have shown that the Kupffer cell, a specialized cell in the liver's blood vessel lining, allows the parasite to enter the liver. Researchers in the new study discovered the CD68 protein on Kupffer cells is used by the parasite to enter the liver.

Lab studies have shown that mice lacking the CD68 receptor had 70 percent fewer parasites in their livers when infected with malaria than did mice who have the receptor. Researchers think the protein may be a new target to help control the spread of the disease, they said in a press release.

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"Understanding the molecular basis for this specific recognition may lead to novel therapeutic strategies to control malaria," researchers wrote in the study, which is published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.


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