Send to

Choose Destination
Int J Parasitol. 2006 May 1;36(5):569-82. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Immunopathogenesis of cerebral malaria.

Author information

Molecular Immunopathology Unit, Institute for Biomedical Research, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Malaria is one of the most important global health problems, potentially affecting more than one third of the world's population. Cerebral malaria (CM) is a deadly complication of Plasmodium falciparum infection, yet its pathogenesis remains incompletely understood. In this review, we discuss some of the principal pathogenic events that have been described in murine models of the disease and relate them to the human condition. One of the earliest events in CM pathogenesis appears to be a mild increase in the permeability to protein of the blood-brain barrier. Recent studies have shown a role for CD8+T cells in mediating damage to the microvascular endothelium and this damage can result in the leakage of cytokines, malaria antigens and other potentially harmful molecules across the blood-brain barrier into the cerebral parenchyma. We suggest that this, in turn, leads to the activation of microglia and the activation and apoptosis of astrocytes. The role of hypoxia in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria is also discussed, with particular reference to the local reduction of oxygen consumption in the brain as a consequence of vascular obstruction, to cytokine-driven changes in glucose metabolism, and to cytopathic hypoxia. Interferon-gamma, a cytokine known to be produced in malaria infection, induces increased expression, by microvascular endothelial cells, of the haem enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, the first enzyme in the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism. Enhanced indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase expression leads to increased production of a range of biologically active metabolites that may be part of a tissue protective response. Damage to astrocytes may result in reduced production of the neuroprotectant molecule kynurenic acid, leading to a decrease in its ratio relative to the neuroexcitotoxic molecule quinolinic acid, which might contribute to some of the neurological symptoms of cerebral malaria. Lastly, we discuss the role of other haem enzymes, cyclooxygenase-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase and haem oxygenase-1, as potentially being components of mechanisms that protect host tissue against the effects of cytokine- and leukocyte-mediated stress induced by malaria infection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center