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Researchers Reveal Mechanism of Malaria Parasites to Evade Immune Cells

Researchers from Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) discovered that malaria parasites move rapidly due to a protein responsible for the different behavior of the actin in parasites.

Malaria parasites of the genus Plasmodium move ten times faster through the skin to evade an attack from immune cells. Now researchers from HITS revealed the mechanism of the parasites that make them faster than its counterpart. The research led by Dr. Ross Douglas from the Heidelberg Centre for Infectious Diseases, studied actin—a protein that defines the structure and movement of cells. It is assembled into long rope-like structures called filaments that are important for the proper functioning of cells. Furthermore, they are also responsible for movement of immune system cells to capture invading pathogens. However, this function similarly aids the movement of the malaria parasite. The research was published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology on July 16, 2018.

Previous research revealed that certain sections of the actin protein differ between the parasite and mammals. The researchers replaced parts of the parasite protein with corresponding sections of protein from mammalian actin in the laboratory to study the differences in speed of the parasites. It was observed that some parasites could not survive the change and a few restrained movement. Further experiments and computer simulations were performed on the parasites in live animals at molecular level. The researchers stated that the findings could lead to new drug therapies that selectively target parasite actin and effectively stop the entire parasites. For instance, tubulin —a protein—is involved in the building of the cytoskeleton via microtubules.  Therapies that target parasite microtubules aid in treatment of parasitic worms in humans and animals. The research project was partially funded by the innovation fund FRONTIER at Heidelberg University.