Tumor necrosis factor, or cachectin (TNF-alpha), a protein with a wide range of biological activities, is produced mainly by macrophages and may be important in inflammatory processes. The role of TNF-alpha in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria was investigated in a murine model. Most CBA mice infected with Plasmodium berghei anka die between days 6 and 14 with acute neurological manifestations unrelated to the level of parasitemia, whereas mice of some other strains have malaria of the same severity that ends in death after 3 to 4 weeks without neurological manifestations. The activity of serum TNF-alpha was considerably increased in CBA/Ca mice with cerebral malaria but not in Plasmodium berghei-infected mice that did not develop this complication. One injection of rabbit antibody to TNF-alpha on day 4 or 7 fully protected infected mice from cerebral malaria without modifying the parasitemia, whereas immunoglobulins from normal rabbit had no effect. In mice with cerebral malaria, the cerebral vessels showed focal accumulations of packed macrophages often containing infected erythrocytes; this lesion was not seen in mice treated with antibody to TNF-alpha or in untreated mice without cerebral malaria. These findings indicate that TNF-alpha has an important role in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria in this murine model and suggest that local accumulation and activation of macrophages may lead to the predominance of lesions in the central nervous system.

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