Genetic variant reduces risk of severe malaria

Scientists have identified a human genetic variant responsible for an almost 30 percent reduction in the risk of developing severe malaria.

The gene, called FAS, was identified by scientists at the Bernard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Germany and Kumasi University in Ghana, according to If present, the variant appears to prevent an excessively hazardous immune response in infected children.

People with the FAS gene have an increased expression of a molecule called CD95, which appears to promote a large number of immune cell suicides. This serves to temper the overall immune reaction, ultimately making malaria more survivable.

“So the immune response is constantly on a very high level trying to eliminate the pathogen from the body,” Kathrin Schuldt, a co-author of the study, said, according to “And so what we found with this naturally occurring variant, these children probably have a regulation in their immune response which down-regulates the immune response to a certain level and therefore is kind of protective.”

Severe malaria is a major health concern, particularly in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately one million people die each year from the disease. Adults in endemic areas can develop partial immunity to the parasite, but exposed children are at an increased risk.

The study appears in the open access online journal PLoS Genetics.