INTRODUCTION: Severe malaria has been attributed partly to the sequestration of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes (IEs) in the microvasculature of vital host organs. Identification of P. falciparum cytoadherence phenotypes that are associated with severe malaria may lead to the development of novel strategies against life-threatening malaria.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: Forty-six P. falciparum isolates from Mozambican children under 5 years of age with severe malaria (cases) were examined and compared to 46 isolates from sex and age matched Mozambican children with uncomplicated malaria (controls). Cytoadherence properties such as platelet-mediated clumping, rosetting and adhesion to purified receptors (CD36, ICAM1 and gC1qR), were compared between these matched pairs by non-parametric tests. The most common clinical presentation associated with severe malaria was prostration. Compared to matched controls, prevalence of platelet-mediated clumping was higher in cases (P = .019), in children presenting with prostration (P = .049) and in children with severe anaemia (P = .025). Prevalence of rosetting and gC1qR adhesion were also higher in isolates from cases with severe anemia and multiple seizures, respectively (P = .045 in both cases), than in controls.
CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate a role for platelet-mediated clumping, rosetting and adhesion to gC1qR in the pathogenesis of severe malaria. Inhibition of these cytoadherence phenotypes may reduce the occurrence or improve the prognosis of severe malaria outcomes.