Serum lipids and lipoproteins in malaria - a systematic review and meta-analysis

Benjamin J. Visser, Rosanne W. Wieten, Ingeborg M. Nagel, Martin P. Grobusch

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review


Background: Serum lipid profile changes have been observed during malaria infection. The underlying biological mechanisms remain unclear. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview on those serum lipid profile changes, and to discuss possible underlying biological mechanisms and the role of lipids in malaria pathogenesis.

Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis to determine lipid profile changes during malaria was conducted, following PRISMA guidelines. Without language restrictions, Medline/PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Web of Science, LILACS, Biosis Previews and the African Index Medicus were searched for studies published up to 11 July, 2013, that measured serum lipid parameters in malaria patients. Also, major trial registries were searched. Mean differences in lipid profile parameters were combined in fixed and random effects meta-analysis, with a separate analysis for different groups of controls (healthy, other febrile illnesses or very low parasitaemia). These parameters were also compared between severe malaria and uncomplicated malaria. Funnel plots were used to test for publication bias.

Results: Of 2,518 studies reviewed, 42 met the criteria for inclusion in the qualitative analysis, and of these, 15 reported the necessary data for inclusion in the meta-analysis for cholesterol; nine for high-density lipoprotein (HDL), eight for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and nine for triglycerides, respectively. Total cholesterol, HDL and LDL concentrations were lower in malaria and other febrile diseases compared to healthy controls. The decline was more pronounced and statistically significant during malaria compared to other febrile diseases. These results were consistent across included studies. Triglycerides were raised compared to healthy controls, but not statistically significant when compared to symptomatic controls.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis suggests that the observed lipid profile changes are characteristic for malaria. Although a definite link with the pathogenesis of malaria cannot yet be demonstrated, plausible hypotheses of biological mechanisms involving host lipid alterations and the pathogenesis of malaria exist. An increased research effort to elucidate the precise pathways is warranted, since this could lead to better understanding of malaria pathophysiology and consequently to novel treatment approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number442
JournalMalaria Journal
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 7-Dec-2013


  • Malaria
  • Lipids
  • Meta-analysis
  • Cholesterol
  • Lipoproteins
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)
  • Triglycerides
  • Haemozoin (Hz)


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