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Blood. 2013 Jan 3;121(1):20-5. doi: 10.1182/blood-2012-08-449397. Epub 2012 Nov 1.

The triumph of good over evil: protection by the sickle gene against malaria.

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  • 1Hematology Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The mechanisms underlying Plasmodium falciparum resistance in persons with sickle trait have been under active investigation for more than a half century. This Perspective reviews progress in solving this challenging problem, including recent studies that have exploited the genomics and proteomics of the parasite. The formation of Hb S polymer in the parasitized AS RBC leads to impaired parasite growth and development along with enhanced clearance from the circulation and reduced deposition in deep postcapillary vascular beds. Enhanced generation of reactive oxygen species in sickled AS RBCs is a pathogenetic feature shared by parasitized thalassemic and G6PD-deficient RBCs, triggering abnormal topology of the RBC plasma membrane with decreased and disordered display of PfEMP-1, a P falciparum adhesion protein critical for endothelial adherence. A mouse model of Hb S confers host tolerance to P berghei, through inhibition of pathogenic CD8(+) T cells and induction of heme oxygenase-1. An additional and apparently independent mode of protection is provided by the selective expression in AS RBCs of 2 species of microRNA that integrate into P falciparum mRNAs and inhibit translation and parasite growth.

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