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Infect Immun. 2017 Dec 19;86(1). pii: e00447-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00447-17. Print 2018 Jan.

Plasmodium falciparum PfEMP1 Modulates Monocyte/Macrophage Transcription Factor Activation and Cytokine and Chemokine Responses.

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Population Health and Immunity Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.
Department of Medical Biology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.
Population Health and Immunity Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.


Immunity to Plasmodium falciparum malaria is slow to develop, and it is often asserted that malaria suppresses host immunity, although this is poorly understood and the molecular basis for such activity remains unknown. P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) is a virulence factor that plays a key role in parasite-host interactions. We investigated the immunosuppressive effect of PfEMP1 on monocytes/macrophages, which are central to the antiparasitic innate response. RAW macrophages and human primary monocytes were stimulated with wild-type 3D7 or CS2 parasites or transgenic PfEMP1-null parasites. To study the immunomodulatory effect of PfEMP1, transcription factor activation and cytokine and chemokine responses were measured. The level of activation of NF-κB was significantly lower in macrophages stimulated with parasites that express PfEMP1 at the red blood cell surface membrane than in macrophages stimulated with PfEMP1-null parasites. Modulation of additional transcription factors, including CREB, also occurred, resulting in reduced immune gene expression and decreased tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-10 (IL-10) release. Similarly, human monocytes released less IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1), macrophage inflammatory protein 1α (MIP-1α), MIP-1β, and TNF specifically in response to VAR2CSA PfEMP1-containing parasites than in response to PfEMP1-null parasites, suggesting that this immune regulation by PfEMP1 is important in naturally occurring infections. These results indicate that PfEMP1 is an immunomodulatory molecule that affects the activation of a range of transcription factors, dampening cytokine and chemokine responses. Therefore, these findings describe a potential molecular basis for immune suppression by P. falciparum.


NF-κB; PfEMP1; Plasmodium falciparum; cytokines; immunosuppression; innate immunity; macrophages; malaria; monocytes; transcription factors

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