Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Malaria parasite's 'secret handshake' revealed

Shares

Scientists have identified the structure of a protein that malaria parasites use to invade human red blood cells.

This could help efforts to develop drugs or vaccines against the disease, they say.

The team, led by Leemor Joshua-Tor at US-based Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, will have their results published online by the journal Cell tomorrow (29 July).

The researchers found that two 'arms' of a protein called EBA-175 on the outer surface of the parasite join together in "a molecular handshake".


The two molecular 'arms' (central
green and purple structure) binding
the malaria protein (blue) to the
human blood cell protein (red)
(Photo credit: Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory/ L. Joshua-Tor)

This structure grabs hold of a protein on the surface of human red blood cells, allowing the parasite to invade them.

Parasites that don't manage to enter blood cells soon die, so stopping the parasite from getting into the cells could prevent the disease.

Joshua-Tor's team says drugs that stop the two arms joining, or stop the joined arms holding on to the red blood cell protein, might prevent malaria.

Alternatively, a vaccine could work by stimulating our immune system to recognise and attack the parasite protein EBA-175.

Malaria kills between one and three million people every year. Nearly 80 per cent of these are children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reference: Cell doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2005.05.033

Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.