Houston Methodist researchers have discovered an immune protein that facilitates long-lasting immunity against malaria. In a study recently published in Immunity (online Oct. 25), researchers reported that elevated production of specific proteins that regulate the immune system within 24 hours of infection was required for resilient and sustained anti-malaria immunity in mice.

“Nearly half a million people die from malaria every year,” said Rongfu Wang, Ph.D., director of the Center for Inflammation & Epigenetics at Houston Methodist Research Institute. “This is in part due to the lack of an effective malaria vaccine and a limited understanding of the body’s immune response during infection. We have identified immune system pathways activated during infection and potential targets for a malaria vaccine.” 

Using mouse models, the research team led by Wang carefully dissected pathways in the immune system to identify a sensor in the genes that recognizes malaria DNA and activates interferon type I signaling following malaria infection. 

Current antimalarial drugs vary by country and are not 100 percent protective, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The Centers for Disease Control reports that the malaria causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, has developed resistance to nearly all of the available antimalarial drugs, including chloroquine. 

Wang hopes that his team’s findings will help researchers understand how lethal malaria blocks type I interferon signaling and how disturbing such signaling will aid in the development of effective anti-malaria vaccines for long-lasting malaria protection.

Co-authors of the study included Xiao Yu, Ph.D., Baowei Cai, Mingjun Wang, Ph.D., Peng Tan, Xilai Ding, Ph.D., Qingtian Li, Ph.D., Pinghua Liu, Ph.D., Changsheng Xing, Ph.D., Helen Y. Wang (Houston Methodist Research Institute), Jin Wu, Ph.D., Xin-zhuan Su, Ph.D. (National Institutes of Health), Jian Li, Ph.D., (School of Life Sciences, China).
The research was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute (R01CA101795), National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA030338), the National Institutes of Health and by the Division of Intramural Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID).

To speak with Rongfu Whang, Ph.D., contact Patricia Akinfenwa, Ph.D., Houston Methodist, at 281.740.1402 or pakinfenwa@houstonmethodist.org. For more information about Houston Methodist, visit houstonmethodist.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


For more information: Cross-regulation of two type I interferon signaling pathways in plasmacytoid dendritic cells controls anti-malaria immunity and host mortality. Immunity DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2016.10.001. (Online October 25, 2016) X. Yu, B. Cai, M. Wang, P. Tan, X. Ding, J. Wu, Q. Li, P. Liu, C. Xing, H. Wang, X. Su and R. Wang.