Malaria parasite mechanism is identified

March 11, 2009 at 3:22 PM
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RICHMOND, Va., March 11 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've identified the way in which the malaria parasite enters human red blood cells -- a finding that might lead to a malaria vaccine.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers said although scientists have long known a molecule called glycophorin B, which is found on the surface of human red blood cells, is important for the invasion of the malaria parasite, the specific molecule by which the malaria parasite attaches itself to invade the host was not known.

Using a biochemical test that looks specifically at how the parasite and host bind to each other, the scientists examined how the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, interacts with red blood cells. The findings showed the EBL-1 molecule is the specific attachment site used by the parasite on glycophorin B.

"We have now identified how the parasite binds to glycophorin B on the red blood cells," said Assistant Professor Ghislaine Mayer, who led the research. "Down the road, the EBL-1 molecule could be used as a vaccine target against malaria as part of a multivalent vaccine, or vaccine cocktail,"

The study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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