Imaging malaria’s pathway into human blood cells
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An atomic-scale picture of how the malaria parasite gains an entry into human red blood cells could help researchers develop new drugs and vaccines.
A team that included scientists from the University of Melbourne used cryo-electron microscopy to visualize the ‘invasion complex’ that forms between a Plasmodium vivax protein and the transferrin receptor 1 protein through which the parasite enters red blood cells.
They discovered that these interactions rely on a stretch of the malarial protein that is highly conserved across a range of parasite strains, the analysis revealed. That suggests vaccines designed to target this region of the protein could offer broad protection against P. vivax, the most widespread cause of malaria worldwide.
Taking advantage of the Australian Synchrotron, the researchers also conducted X-ray crystallography studies that showed how antimalarial antibody drugs block malaria parasites from infiltrating red blood cells. Knowing how these antibodies work could help guide future development of more-potent drug candidates.
- Nature 559, 135–139 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0249-1