α-Thalassemia impairs the cytoadherence of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes.
Krause MA., Diakite SAS., Lopera-Mesa TM., Amaratunga C., Arie T., Traore K., Doumbia S., Konate D., Keefer JR., Diakite M., Fairhurst RM.
α-Thalassemia results from decreased production of α-globin chains that make up part of hemoglobin tetramers (Hb; α(2)β(2)) and affects up to 50% of individuals in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Heterozygous (-α/αα) and homozygous (-α/-α) genotypes are associated with reduced risk of severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria, but the mechanism of this protection remains obscure. We hypothesized that α-thalassemia impairs the adherence of parasitized red blood cells (RBCs) to microvascular endothelial cells (MVECs) and monocytes--two interactions that are centrally involved in the pathogenesis of severe disease.We obtained P. falciparum isolates directly from Malian children with malaria and used them to infect αα/αα (normal), -α/αα and -α/-α RBCs. We also used laboratory-adapted P. falciparum clones to infect -/-α RBCs obtained from patients with HbH disease. Following a single cycle of parasite invasion and maturation to the trophozoite stage, we tested the ability of parasitized RBCs to bind MVECs and monocytes. Compared to parasitized αα/αα RBCs, we found that parasitized -α/αα, -α/-α and -/-α RBCs showed, respectively, 22%, 43% and 63% reductions in binding to MVECs and 13%, 33% and 63% reductions in binding to monocytes. α-Thalassemia was associated with abnormal display of P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), the parasite's main cytoadherence ligand and virulence factor, on the surface of parasitized RBCs.Parasitized α-thalassemic RBCs show PfEMP1 display abnormalities that are reminiscent of those on the surface of parasitized sickle HbS and HbC RBCs. Our data suggest a model of malaria protection in which α-thalassemia ameliorates the pro-inflammatory effects of cytoadherence. Our findings also raise the possibility that other unstable hemoglobins such as HbE and unpaired α-globin chains (in the case of β-thalassemia) protect against life-threatening malaria by a similar mechanism.