Var gene transcription and clinical disease manifestation in African P. falciparum malaria field isolates
Kyriacou, Helen M
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The Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) variant surface antigens, encoded by the var gene family, play a crucial role in malaria pathogenesis through mediating immunomodulation and host cell adhesion. Var genes can be sub-grouped according to genetic or functional features. This thesis examined var gene transcription of conserved groups of var genes in the context of clinical malaria disease manifestation in African field isolates. Analysis of var gene transcription in 26 P. falciparum field isolates from Malian children revealed that field isolates from children with cerebral malaria show significantly higher transcription of group A var genes than the field isolates from children with equally high parasite burdens but no symptoms or signs of severe malaria (hyperparasitaemia). These results suggest that group A var genes are important determinants of parasite virulence and strengthen the growing body of evidence associating group A var expression with severe disease in children. Analysis of var gene transcription in six P. falciparum placental malaria field isolates showed that var2csa was transcribed in all placental malaria field isolates, but not in 10 childhood isolates examined. This finding, also reported in other recent and subsequent studies, suggests that var2csa expression is a critical factor in the onset of clinical malaria disease in pregnant women. Examination of type 3 var gene transcription in laboratory and field isolates established that these var genes were commonly transcribed in blood-stage parasites, and sequence analysis of the transcribed domains confirmed a very high level of conservation across this var gene sub-family. Finally, rosetting is a property of some group A PfEMP1 and is associated with disease severity in African childhood malaria. Certain glycoconjugate compounds can disrupt rosetting, possibly due to the functional similarities of interactions between rosetting PfEMP1 and host rosetting ligands. A non-toxic compound (curdlan sulfate) was found to be effective at disrupting rosettes in all 18 rosetting field isolates examined, showing potential for use in treatment of severe malaria due to rosetting P. falciparum isolates. The findings presented in this thesis expand current knowledge of the role and significance of var genes/PfEMP1 in P. falciparum malaria disease pathogenesis. The work demonstrates the importance of continued research on var genes/PfEMP1 in further understanding this complex parasite, and ultimately in combating this severe disease.