Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute researchers said on Monday that a biological reaction between a RH5 protein and a basigin receptor is required for humans to be infected with the deadliest form of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum.
"It's remarkable that the interaction of a single pair of proteins can explain why the most deadly form of malaria is specific to humans" Julian Rayner, a doctor in the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Malaria Programme, said. "This research will strengthen eradication strategies by ruling out great apes as possible reservoirs of human infection by P. falciparum."
P. Faliciparum is closely related to strains that infect primates, but different malaria strains are specific about which animal they infect.
The research team was able to determine that the interaction between the specific protein and receptor are different for each species of parasite and animal.
"This interaction seems to explain why P. falciparum only infects people and not apes," Beatrice Hahn, a study author from the University of Pennsylvania, said. "This may also be an important guiding factor in the development of eradication strategies for the elimination of P. falciparum in endemic areas."