Pathogenicity and virulence of malaria: sticky problems and tricky solutions

Published: December 1, 2022


Isobel Walker, S. J. R. (2022). “Pathogenicity and virulence of malaria: sticky problems and tricky solutions.”



Infections with Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax cause over 600,000 deaths each year, concentrated in Africa and in young children, but much of the world’s population remain at risk of infection. In this article we review the latest developments in the immunogenicity and pathogenesis of malaria, with a particular focus on P. falciparum, the leading malaria killer. Pathogenic factors include parasite derived toxins and variant surface antigens on infected erythrocytes that mediate sequestration in the deep vasculature. Host response to parasite toxins and to variant antigens is an important determinant of disease severity. Understanding how parasites sequester, and how antibody to variant antigens could prevent sequestration, may lead to new approaches to treat and prevent disease. Difficulties in malaria diagnosis, drug resistance and specific challenges of treating P. vivax pose challenges to malaria elimination, but vaccines and other preventive strategies may offer improved disease control.