Science Reporting

Identified human protein that helps malaria parasite development

A group of Japanese researchers published a study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine stating that it was discovered that Plasmodium parasites responsible for malaria develop so easily in the human body thanks to a particular protein of liver cells that the human body itself produces and that these parasites exploit. The research could prove useful in developing new therapeutic plans that target precisely this human protein, called CXCR4.

Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases and, according to the WHO, in 2017 alone there were 219 million cases and the deaths of 435,000 people. Malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes infected with this parasite in the form of rods that, once in the human body, invades the liver cells, called hepatocytes, changing shape and giving rise to thousands of merozoites. The latter then spread in the blood and cause the disease known as “malaria.”

According to Masahiro Yamamoto, very little is known today about the factors that regulate the differentiation of sporozoites in infected hepatocytes within the human body. In the course of their research, however, scientists have realized that it is a special hepatocyte protein called CXCR4 that helps Plasmodium sporozoites to transform once inside liver cells.

Scientists have already carried out experiments on mice with a specific drug that inhibits its own protein CXCR4, the same mice have been shown to be more resistant to malaria and survival rates were significantly higher.

According to Yamamoto himself “most anti-malaria drugs that target Plasmodium molecules eventually lead to drug resistance in these parasites, however inhibitors that target human proteins such as CXCR4 could avoid this problem and could be used prophylactically to prevent the development of malaria. In addition, the CXCR4 inhibitor used in this study is already widely used in humans undergoing treatment for blood tumors, which could accelerate its reuse as a new way of combating malaria.”