Malaria is the 5th biggest killer worldwide and approximately half the global population are at risk1. The causative agent of malaria, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, is transmitted via the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. Following transmission, the parasite is transported via the blood stream to the liver where it multiplies and subsequently infects red blood cells (RBC’s) at the so-called blood infection stage2.
A team of scientists in Missouri, USA,3 has recently answered a long-standing question regarding the metabolism of the parasite, advancing research towards identifying novel therapeutic targets.
To analyse the reaction products resulting from in vitro parasitic heme degradation pathways, a range of chromatographic techniques were used. HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry was used for the analysis of reaction products generated during in vitro heme degradation; and both affinity and size-exclusion chromatography were used for protein purification.
The leading author of the study, Paul Sigala, told The Column: “Human infection by Plasmodium falciparum parasites, the causative agent of malaria, remains a severe public health problem worldwide and a better understanding of parasite metabolism can clarify what are or are not appropriate therapeutic targets. During the blood-infection stage, the parasite must deal with a vast amount of heme, most of which is derived from digestion of the hemoglobin within red blood cells. It has remained unclear whether a portion of this heme is enzymatically processed by parasites for utilization or disposal. Our study thus clarifies a fundamental aspect of parasite biology, which will focus efforts on remaining pathways that are operative within parasites.”
It is hoped that these findings will advance the understanding of malaria causing parasite transmission, further advancing progress towards the identification of valid therapeutic targets.
1. Centre for Disease Control, www.cdc. gov/malaria/about/facts.html (Accessed 24th of September 2012).
2. World Health Organization: www.who. int/topics/malaria/en/ (Accessed 24th of September 2012).
3. Paul A. Sigala et al., The Journal of Biological Chemistry, DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M112.414078 (2012).