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J Infect Dis. 2008 Jan 1;197(1):72-8. doi: 10.1086/523761.

Platelet-induced clumping of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes from Malawian patients with cerebral malaria-possible modulation in vivo by thrombocytopenia.

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Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Chichiri.


Platelets may play a role in the pathogenesis of human cerebral malaria (CM), and they have been shown to induce clumping of Plasmodium falciparum-parasitized red blood cells (PRBCs) in vitro. Both thrombocytopenia and platelet-induced PRBC clumping are associated with severe malaria and, especially, with CM. In the present study, we investigated the occurrence of the clumping phenomenon in patients with CM by isolating and coincubating their plasma and PRBCs ex vivo. Malawian children with CM all had low platelet counts, with the degree of thrombocytopenia directly proportional to the density of parasitemia. Plasma samples obtained from these patients subsequently induced weak PRBC clumping. When the assays were repeated, with the plasma platelet concentrations adjusted to within the physiological range considered to be normal, massive clumping occurred. The results of this study suggest that thrombocytopenia may, through reduction of platelet-mediated clumping of PRBCs, provide a protective mechanism for the host during CM.

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