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Metabolism Directly Impacts the Odds of Developing Malaria

Plasmodium parasite developing inside an hepatocyte (liver cell) 48 hours after infection. Courtesy of Maria Mota lab, iMM Lisboa

Researchers from Instituto de Medicina Molecular (iMM) Lisboa have found that the host's susceptibility to develop malaria depends on his or her metabolic state, which can be easily manipulated through external stimuli such as dietary patterns.

The progression and development of an infectious disease is directly dependent not only on the characteristics of the causing infectious agent but also on the genetic characteristics of the host, which also dictate the efficiency of the infection.

During the last years scientific discoveries have suggested that external factors independent of the host-parasite dichotomy, such as eating habits, can impact in the establishment, progression and endpoint of infections.

The team, led by Maria Mota, manipulated the diet fed to lab mice for very short periods of time and evaluated the level of infection caused by the malaria parasite. The results, now published in the prestigious journal Nature Microbiology, show that an increase in the levels of pro-oxidants caused by dietary shifts leads to a 90% reduction in parasite load during the hepatic phase of the infection and consequently lowers the severity of the disease.

The mechanism used by the host to eliminate the malaria parasite, now revealed in this study, may contribute to explain how certain genetic alterations associate to high levels of oxidative stress, such as sickle-cell anemia or beta thalassemia, have been selected in the population due to their protective effect against malaria.

Source: The Instituto de Medicina Molecular

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