Background and objective: The serum transferrin receptor (sTfR) concentration in an individual reflects the extent of erythropoietic activity and is considered a useful marker of iron deficiency independent of concurrent inflammation or infection. However, data on the impact of malaria on this parameter are ambiguous. We have examined potential associations of asymptomatic and mild Plasmodium falciparum-infections and of several erythrocyte variants with sTfR values in South West Nigeria.
Design and methods: In a cross-sectional study among 161 non-hospitalized children, sTfR concentrations and P. falciparum parasitemia were assessed. In addition, hemoglobin (Hb) and serum ferritin values, Hb-types, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD)deficiency and a-globin genotypes were determined and the effects of these factors on sTfR levels were analyzed by univariate and multivariate statistical methods.
Results: P. falciparum-infection was present in 77% of the children. Mean sTfR levels were higher in infected than in non-infected children (geometric mean, 3.68, 95% confidence interval [3.5-3.9] vs. 2.99 [2.7-3.3] mg/L; p = 0.0009). There was a significant trend for higher sTfR values with increasing parasite density. sTfR values decreased continuously with age. Hb-types, G6PD-, and a-globin genotypes did not correlate with sTfR levels. In the multivariate analysis, age, Hb and log ferritin values, and parasite density of P. falciparum were independently associated with log sTfR values.
Interpretation and conclusions: sTfR concentrations are increased in asymptomatic and mild P. falciparum-infections suggesting adequate bone marrow response in this condition. The diagnostic value of sTfR levels for iron deficiency may be impaired in areas where stable malaria occurs.