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Aging Cell. 2018 Feb;17(1). doi: 10.1111/acel.12702. Epub 2017 Nov 16.

Cellular aging dynamics after acute malaria infection: A 12-month longitudinal study.

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Unit of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine Solna, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Infectious Diseases, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.
Unit of Biostatistics, Department of Epidemiology, Institute for Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Biology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


Accelerated cellular aging and reduced lifespan have recently been shown in birds chronically infected with malaria parasites. Whether malaria infection also affects cellular aging in humans has not been reported. Here, we assessed the effect of a single acute Plasmodium falciparum malaria infection on cellular aging dynamics in travelers prospectively followed over one year in Sweden. DNA and RNA were extracted from venous blood collected at the time of admission and repeatedly up to one year. Telomere length was measured using real-time quantitative PCR, while telomerase activity and CDKN2A expression were measured by reverse transcriptase (RT)-qPCR. Our results show that acute malaria infection affects cellular aging as reflected by elevated levels of CDKN2A expression, lower telomerase activity, and substantial telomere shortening during the first three months postinfection. After that CDKN2A expression declined, telomerase activity increased and telomere length was gradually restored over one year, reflecting that cellular aging was reversed. These findings demonstrate that malaria infection affects cellular aging and the underlying cellular mechanism by which pathogens can affect host cellular aging and longevity need to be elucidated. Our results urge the need to investigate whether repeated malaria infections have more pronounced and long-lasting effects on cellular aging and lifespan (similarly to what was observed in birds) in populations living in malaria endemic areas.


Plasmodium falciparum ; CDKN2A; Malaria; Telomerase; Telomeres; cellular aging

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