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Malaria: new insights into the mechanisms of parasite entry into liver cells

Parasite Plasmodium, l'agent du paludisme, dans une cellule du foie. / Liver form of the malaria parasite Plasmodium. ©O. Silvie

3D model of a Plasmodium protein mediating parasite entry into liver cells. ©O. Silvie

Malaria remains a major cause of mortality in the world, especially in Africa. The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted by mosquitoes. In the first hours following infection, parasites injected by the mosquito migrate from the skin to the liver, where they initially multiply before infecting red blood cells.

Until now, the mechanisms of parasite entry into liver cells remained poorly understood. Using cell culture systems, the team of Olivier Silvie, researcher at Inserm (Centre d’Immunologie et des Maladies Infectieuses) showed that the main species causing malaria in humans, Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, use distinct pathways to infect liver cells.

By employing a genetic approach in a rodent malaria model, the researchers identified a key parasite protein that determines which entry route is used. This work, performed by teams of Inserm and Universities of Paris, Strasbourg and Oxford-Mahidol, reveals new aspects of the host-parasite interactions.

The results open new perspectives for the development of antimalarial strategies aimed at blocking the early stages of infection.