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Clin Infect Dis. 2019 Feb 12. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciz038. [Epub ahead of print]

Glycocalyx Breakdown is Associated with Severe Disease and Fatal Outcome in Plasmodium falciparum Malaria.

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Global and Tropical Health Division, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore.
Duke University School of Medicine and VA Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Papuan Health and Community Development Foundation, Timika, Papua, Indonesia.
Mimika District Health Authority, Timika, Papua, Indonesia.
Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
University of Utah and VA Medical Centres, Salt Lake City, USA.



Interactions between the endothelium and infected erythrocytes, microvascular dysfunction and parasite sequestration play major roles in the pathogenesis of severe falciparum malaria. The glycocalyx is a carbohydrate-rich layer lining the endothelium mediating NO production and vascular homeostasis. The role of the glycocalyx in falciparum malaria and the association with disease severity is not known.


We prospectively enrolled Indonesian inpatients (≥18 years old) with severe (SM) or moderately-severe (MSM) falciparum malaria and healthy controls (HCs). Glycocalyx breakdown products were measured in enrolment samples of urine (glycosaminoglycans; dimethylmethylene blue [GAG-DMMB] and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry [GAG-MS] assays) and plasma (syndecan-1; ELISA), and related to vascular NO bioavailability (reactive hyperemia-peripheral arterial tonometry).


A total of 129 subjects (SM=43, MSM=57, HC=29) were recruited. Syndecan-1 (µg/ml), GAG-DMMB and GAG-MS (g/mol creatinine) were increased in SM [median (range) 332.4 (85-3-1913), 3.16 (0.04-27.9) and 4.73 (2.02-27.13)] compared to MSM [99.1 (19.9-767.6), 1.28 (0.03-9.3) and 4.44 (1.19-13.87)], and HCs [48.9 (32.3-88.3), 0.11 (0.02-1.9) and 2.55 (0.73-10.19)]; P<0.001. In SM, GAG-DMMB and GAG-MS were increased in non-survivors (n=3) [median (IQR): 6.72 (3.80-27.87) and 12.15 (7.88-17.20)] compared to survivors n=39 [(3.10 (0.46-4.5) and 4.64 (2.02-15.20)]; P=0.03. Glycocalyx degradation was associated with parasite biomass in MSM (r=0.31, P=0.03 [syndecan-1]; r=0.48 [GAG-DMMB] and r=0.43 [GAG-MS], P<0.001), and SM patients (r=0.29, P=0.04, r=0.47; P=0.002 and r=0.33, P=0.04), and inversely associated with endothelial NO bioavailability.


Increased endothelial glycocalyx breakdown is associated with impaired vascular NO, severe disease and fatal outcome in adults with falciparum malaria, likely contributing to pathogenesis.


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