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PLoS One. 2017 Apr 20;12(4):e0175686. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175686. eCollection 2017.

Extensive alterations of blood metabolites in pediatric cerebral malaria.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, United States of America.
Blantyre Malaria Project, University of Malawi College of Medicine, Blantyre, Malawi.
Department of Osteopathic Medical Specialties, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, United States of America.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, United States of America.
Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, United States of America.
Department of Neurology, Epilepsy Division, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, United States of America.


Cerebral malaria (CM) presents as an encephalopathy and is due to infection with Plasmodium falciparum. Patients are comatose, often with fever, recurrent seizures and this condition is associated with a high mortality rate. The etiology of the coma and seizures are poorly understood. Circulating small molecules and lipids have bioactive functions and alterations in their concentrations have been implicated in seizure disorders and other forms of encephalopathy. We carried out a comprehensive analysis of blood metabolites during CM to explore a biochemical basis of this encephalopathy. A paired metabolomics analysis was performed on the plasma samples of Malawian children (n = 11) during CM and at convalescence thirty days later, to identify differentially abundant molecules associated with CM. We also report plasma molecules associated with CM mortality (n = 4) compared to survival (n = 19). Plasma metabolites were identified through ultra high performance liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to maximize compound detection and accuracy and then compared to a library for identification. We detected a total of 432 small molecules in the plasma and 247 metabolites were significantly differentially abundant between CM and convalescence (p < 0.05, FDR < 0.10). These represented global changes across many classes of molecules including lipids, amino acids and hemoglobin metabolites. We observed significant changes in molecules that could impact neurologic function during CM; these include increased levels of kynurenate and decreased indolepropionate, glutamate, arginine and glutamine. Moreover, 1-methylimidazoleacetate, kyurenate, arachidonic acid and dimethylarginine were associated with mortality (p < 0.05, fold change > 1.2). These results highlight the broad changes in blood chemistry during CM. We have identified metabolites that may impact central nervous system physiology and disease outcomes and can be further explored for their mechanistic roles into the pathophysiology of CM.

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