Scientists affiliated with the university of Lisbon have found a new underlying mechanism in the Malaria Plasmodium that has a significant effect on the virulence of the parasite. The scientists tested the effects of a restricted diet upon mice infected with a strain of rodent malaria, initial tests found that the mice on the restricted diet lived for three times as long when compared to mice on a normal diet while also not progressing to the cerebral stage of the disease. Furthermore similar trends were found in mice with a compromised immune system ruling out the change of increased diseases clearance. Direct microscopic analysis of the plasmodium showed a decrease in the reproductive cycle as fewer merozoites were formed. This was found to be due to a molecular process where the plasmodium represses its genes which deal with maturation. The kinase KIN a part of the repression process when activated under normal conditions the growth of the Malaria plasmodium was similar to that of ones under restricted diet. Also, the process could be triggered in wild type plasmodium with a salicylate based treatment. Further testing with nutrients found that presence of metabolic sugars such as glucose would remove the gene repression while the addition of other nutrients and amino acids lowered in the restricted diet would not. Experiments were diet restricted mice were moved to a normal diet, collaborated observations in humans where cases of Malaria would increase shortly after a famine indicating the ability of the plasmodium to quickly adjust its rate of growth and replication based on the energy status of the host.
This research reveals the connection between the host’s nutritional status and the growth of the parasite. This connection is likely to become more important as the range of Malaria infections increases as global temperatures continue to rise and Malaria spreads into developed regions with higher standards of nutrition and therefore a greater weakness to Malaria. Furthermore is also presents a new possible supplementary treatment for current Malaria drugs, such as Artemisinin, as well as a possible genetic manipulation which if proliferated could significantly lower the virulence of Malaria in multiple species.
The Article was accepted by Nature Magazine in May of 2017 and was worked on by Liliana Mancio-Silva, Ksenija Slavic, Margarida T. Grilo Ruivo, Ana Rita Grosso, Katarzyna K. Modrzynska, Iset Medina Vera, Joana Sales-Dias, Ana Rita Gomes, Cameron Ross MacPherson, Pierre Crozet, Mattia Adamo, Elena Baena-Gonzalez, Rita Tewari, Manuel Llinás, Oliver Billker & Maria M. Mota of various institutions and universities.