BALTIMORE, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have discovered what drives the development of cerebral malaria -- a fatal form of the disease that occurs mostly in children.
Johns Hopkins University researchers say they found red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite activate platelets to secrete the PF4 protein, which triggers the immune system to inflame blood vessels and obstruct capillaries in the brain -- both hallmarks of cerebral malaria.
"Cerebral malaria is lethal 20 percent of the time in the best of hands, and here we've shown something as simple as aspirin, because of its affect on platelets, might be able to improve the outcomes of those who contract this deadly form of the disease," said Dr. David Sullivan.
To make the specific connection between PF4 and malaria, the scientists compared responses to malaria infection by normal mice and mice genetically engineered to lack PF4. They found more than 60 percent of the mice lacking PF4 were still alive after day 10, while only 30 percent of the mice with PF4 survived that long.
The study that included Assistant Professor Craig Morrell appears in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.