The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Wednesday released recent research that reveals the how the parasite that causes the most devastating form of human malaria, plasmodium falciparum, escapes attacks by the human immune system.
Up to one million are killed by this deadly parasite each year. Seventy-five percent of those killed are mainly pregnant women and young children, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said.
The parasite replicates in the circulating blood of infected individuals and modifies the surface of infected red blood cells, therefore allowing the virus to hide from the immune system by changing which surface proteins it displays.
Previous research showed that the antigens the parasite chooses to display are encoded by members of the var gene family. Only one var gene is expressed at a time, and the rest of them remain silent.
The research, conducted by university Professor Ron Dzikowski, and his Ph.D. student Inbar Amit-Avraham, showed evidence that long noncoding RNA molecules play a vital role in regulating the genetic mechanisms that enable the parasite to hide from the immune system.
"We believe this breakthrough has exposed the tip of the iceberg in understanding how the deadliest malaria parasite regulates the selective expression of its genes, enabling it to evade the immune system,” Dzikowski said.
“Understanding the mechanisms by which the parasite evades immunity takes us closer to finding ways to either block this ability, or force the parasite to expose its entire antigenic repertoire and thus allow the human immune system to overcome the disease."