NewsInfectious Diseases

Malaria Hideout Found in New Mothers

Science  07 Jun 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5267, pp. 1416-1417
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5267.1416

Summary

Malaria has many dangerous and lethal tricks, but one is especially grim and puzzling: attacking first-time mothers. Although repeated exposure to the disease brings some measure of immunity to people who live in malaria-infested areas, women often lose part of those defenses during their first pregnancy. Why those defenses drop has been a mystery. Now a possible answer is emerging. On page 1502, Michal Fried and Patrick Duffy report that a specialized subgroup of parasite-infected red blood cells can hide out on the placental walls. Because cells bearing the receptor protein needed to bind to the placenta are an uncommon phenotype that occurs only in large numbers during pregnancy, even women who are normally immune to malaria lack the immune defenses needed to attack them.

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