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Malar J. 2006 Aug 17;5:72.

ABO phenotypes and malaria related outcomes in mothers and babies in The Gambia: a role for histo-blood groups in placental malaria?

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  • 1Child and Reproductive Health Group, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK.



Host susceptibility to P.falciparum is critical for understanding malaria in pregnancy, its consequences for the mother and baby, and for improving malaria control in pregnant women. Yet host genetic factors which could influence placental malaria risk are little studied and there are no reports of the role of blood group polymorphisms on pregnancy outcomes in malaria endemic areas. This study analyses the association between ABO blood group phenotypes in relation to placental malaria pathology.


A total of 198 mother/child pairs delivering in Banjul and the Kombo-St Mary District (The Gambia) were analysed. ABO blood group was measured by agglutination. Placental malaria parasites wee enumerated and the presence of malaria pigment noted. Birth anthropometry was recorded and placental weight. Maternal and infant haemoglobin was measured.


89 (45%) subjects were primiparae and 110 (55%)multiparae. The ABO phenotype distribution was 38(A), 52(B), 6(AB) and 102(O). Placental histo-pathology showed active placental malaria in 74 (37%), past infection in 42 (21%) and no infection in 82 cases (41%). In primiparae blood group O was associated with a higher risk of active infection (OR = 2.99; 95% CI = 1.24-7.25), and a lower risk of past infection (OR = 0.31, 0.10-1.01, p < 0.05). In multiparae the O phenotype was associated with reduced prevalence of active or past placental infection (OR = 0.45; 95% CI 0.21-0.98). The mean feto-placental weight ratio was significantly higher in multiparae with group O women compared to non-O phenotypes (5.74 vs 5.36; p = 0.04). Among primiparae with active placental infection, mean birth weight was higher in children of mothers with the O phenotype (p = 0.04).


These results indicate that blood group O was significantly associated with increased placental malaria infection in primiparae and reduced risk of infection in multiparae. This parity related susceptibility was not present with other ABO phenotypes. Cell surface glycans, such as ABO and related antigens have special relevance in reproductive biology and could modulate specific cell interactions as those associated with the pathogenesis of placental malaria.

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