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Blood. 2011 Jan 13;117(2):381-92. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-04-202911. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

The pathogenesis of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in humans: insights from splenic physiology.

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  • 1Inserm-UPMC, Paris 6 University, UMRs945, Paris, France.


Clinical manifestations of Plasmodium falciparum infection are induced by the asexual stages of the parasite that develop inside red blood cells (RBCs). Because splenic microcirculatory beds filter out altered RBCs, the spleen can innately clear subpopulations of infected or uninfected RBC modified during falciparum malaria. The spleen appears more protective against severe manifestations of malaria in naïve than in immune subjects. The spleen-specific pitting function accounts for a large fraction of parasite clearance in artemisinin-treated patients. RBC loss contributes to malarial anemia, a clinical form associated with subacute progression, frequent splenomegaly, and relatively low parasitemia. Stringent splenic clearance of ring-infected RBCs and uninfected, but parasite-altered, RBCs, may altogether exacerbate anemia and reduce the risks of severe complications associated with high parasite loads, such as cerebral malaria. The age of the patient directly influences the risk of severe manifestations. We hypothesize that coevolution resulting in increased splenic clearance of P. falciparum-altered RBCs in children favors the survival of the host and, ultimately, sustained parasite transmission. This analysis of the RBC-spleen dynamic interactions during P falciparum infection reflects both data and hypotheses, and provides a framework on which a more complete immunologic understanding of malaria pathogenesis may be elaborated.

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